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WIREs Clim Change
Impact Factor: 4.571

Encountering climate change: ‘seeing’ is more than ‘believing’

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Individuals' direct exposure to and experience of climate change are arguably integral aspects of their risk perceptions, understandings, and engagement with the issue. Recent research investigating these experiences has thrown into sharp relief some fundamental considerations with respect to public risk perceptions and responses, in particular the extent to which such perceived encounters might reflect a priori beliefs and motivated reasoning. Findings to date are intriguing and compelling, both in regard to the escalating percentages of individuals who report having such personal encounters, and conclusions being drawn with respect to the nature, significance, and influence of such direct experience. These findings have also led to some intuitively reasonable but possibly problematic recommendations regarding policy and issue and behavioural engagement implications. A focus on underlying processes of experience and belief, oversimplified in terms of ‘seeing’ or ‘believing’, has however deflected attention from other issues such as the nature and contexts of individual climate change encounters, the clarity of the constructs and validity of the measures being used for ‘belief’ and ‘experience’, and the transactional and phenomenological nature of climate change encounters. There is nonetheless current and convergent evidence that perceived direct experience of environmental changes or events deemed to be manifestations of climate change influences psychological responses such as risk perception, acceptance, belief certainty, distress, and psychological and behavioural adaptation. These findings suggest that such experiences, for many, foster a contextualized and more personally meaningful realisation of what climate change portends, implies, and ultimately means, locally and globally.

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Perceptions, Behavior, and Communication of Climate Change > Perceptions of Climate Change

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