Climate Change Adaptation: Lessening the Perceived Risk of Climate Change?

by Brendan Busch

As the future effects of climate change become more certain, it is clear that adaption to new climate conditions will be a necessity. However, will these plans for adaptation dissuade people from trying to prevent climate change? In their article “Does Learning About Climate Change Adaptation Change Support For Mitigation?” Amanda R. Carrico, Heather Barnes Truelove, Michael P. Vandenbergh, and David Dana (researchers and professors at the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of North Florida, Vanderbilt University Law School, and Northwestern University School of Law, respectively) attempt to determine if a focus on adaptation has adverse effects on the public’s support of preventative climate change measures. Through psychological experimentation, this study tests the hypothesis held by some policy makers and scholars that learning about potential adaptation techniques may reduce the public’s perceived risk about climate change, and thus lessen their willingness to fight against it.

In order to test this theory, Carrico, Truelove, Vandenbergh, and Dana assembled three different groups of random test subjects and gave each group a different fake news article. The three articles were nearly identical, with the exception that the first group’s article had a focus on climate change prevention, the second group’s had a focus on adaptation to climate change, and the third group’s had no mention of climate change at all (so that they could serve as a control group). After reading their article, the members of each group answered an identical survey that determined their demographic information (such as political identification and age), the level of their support for climate change mitigation policies, and their perceived risk of climate change. Carrico, Truelove, Vandenbergh, and Dana then compared the results of these surveys to identify if exposure to adaptation policies had a significant on people’s support for climate change mitigation. The experiment was performed twice, with two different sets of articles.

The results of the experiment showed very little difference in support for climate change mitigation policies between the group reading the adaptation-focused article and the group reading the mitigation-focused article. However, the demographic information on the survey did reveal one important distinction in the results: regardless of their assigned group, liberals had much more support for climate-change related policies than conservatives. This suggests that political affiliation had a far greater effect on the subjects’ opinions than the researchers’ attempts to prime the subjects with exposure to different types of climate change literature. However, in no subset of political affiliation did exposure to climate change adaptation cause a decrease in support for climate change mitigation (and in political moderates, a slight increase in support was indicated), effectively debunking the theories of those fearful of wide publication of climate change adaptation strategies.


Carrico, A.R., Truelove, H. B., Vandenbergh, M. P., & Dana, D., 2014. Does learning about climate change adaptation change support for mitigation? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 41, 19-29.



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