Australians adapting to climate change

Research from Griffith University and Cardiff University in Wales has found that Australians are  accepting climate change and are taking adaptive action.
The two-year project involving nearly 7500 Australians and 1800 Britons found 90 per cent of Australian and 89 per cent of British respondents accepted human causal impact on climate change.

Though comparison findings showed striking similarities overall, Australian respondents viewed climate change as a more “immediate, proximal, and certain threat” than British respondents and were beginning to adapt to it through changes in their thinking, feelings and behaviours.

71 per cent of Australians also reported an increasing concern about climate change over the two year period prior to the surveys, citing increased awareness, media coverage, perceived lack of government action, and increasing frequency of natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Australian project leader, Professor Joseph Reser from Griffith University’s School of Applied Psychology and the Griffith Climate Response Program, said only 6.5 per cent of Australian respondents could be characterised as “climate change sceptics”.

“There has been a continuing and widespread misreading of the Australian public’s acceptance of and often deeply felt responses to climate change,” he said.

“A particularly noteworthy finding was that 54 per cent of Australian respondents said they believed the impacts of climate change were already being felt here and 45 per cent believed they had personally encountered noteworthy changes or events associated with climate change.

“What the survey findings are suggesting is that when people personally encounter an environmental change or event they attribute to climate change, it changes them. ‘Climate change’is no longer a complex scientific phenomenon or political argument; it becomes for many a local,concrete, and immediate encounter, one which is both personal and very significant.”

71 per cent of Australian respondents reported that climate change was influencing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

“What also stands out, from a psychological perspective, is the finding that psychological adaptation to climate change appears to act as a powerful mediator between experienced psychological distress at the media coverage and implications of climate change and behavioural engagement.

“Most Australians are not paralysed by the debate, they’re taking action” Professor Reser said.

The project is documenting and monitoring important psychological responses, changes and impacts taking place in association with climate change and is being conducted under the guidance of a team of applied psychologists whose expertise includes environmental, social, and health psychology, as well as risk perception and communication, disaster preparedness and response.

Two Australian surveys were conducted in mid 2010 and ’11, the British survey in 2010.
The research was funded by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency through the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University and the Griffith Climate Change Response Program and is ongoing.

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