More Talk, No Action? The Effect of Exposure to Extreme Weather Events on Climate Change Concern and Pro-Environmental Behaviour


Previous research has shown a link between extreme weather events and people’s concern about climate change and their pro-environmental behaviour. This indicates that people may become more environmentally friendly amid increasing extreme weather events. Still, the influence of experiencing extreme weather events on actual behaviour has rarely been tested with large-scale individual-level data and longitudinal methods. This study links panel data from 35,678 individuals to floods across England and heatwaves across the UK, and applies within-person estimators to account for pre-existing differences between affected and unaffected individuals. Results reveal that individuals are more likely to be concerned about climate change after being affected by a geographically proximate flood or a temporally proximate heatwave. These effects are stronger among initially right-leaning partisans and those initially more sceptic about the existence of climate change, thereby indicating attitudinal updating due to experiential learning. However, those exposed to extreme weather events do not change their environmental behaviour such as energy saving, sustainable shopping or mode of transportation. Even among those who become more concerned, people’s behaviour does not react to extreme weather events.

Tobias Rüttenauer
Lecturer of Quantitative Social Science

Lecturer of Quantitative Social Science at University College London methods.