Study shows nuances in Coloradans beliefs about wildfires and climate change

Focusing on local threats, not climate change, may be the best way to spur wildfire mitigation actions

Wallow-fire-USFS-Ap-sit-NF-inferno-5812328293_6d2fe9b6cc_b_0 (1)
Colorado residents believe that climate change affects the risk of wildfires, but those beliefs don’t necessarily affect their actions when it comes to wildfire mitigation. Photo via U.S. Forest Service.
Wildfires are getting bigger in Colorado.

Staff Report

Whether or not people are convinced that human activities are changing the climate doesn’t play a big role in their decisions about trying to reduce wildfire risks around their property, Colorado-based researchers wrote in a new paper that focused on the Colorado Front Range.

The researchers tried to take a close look at social factors that might motivate people to try and lessen wildfire threats. They found that a “belief” in human-caused climate change is not as significant as previously thought.

“I found it quite surprising that a small but distinct portion of respondents who rejected climate science as a ‘hoax’ were also the ones that reported doing significantly more risk mitigation activities than other respondents,” said lead author Hannah Brenkert-Smith, with the University of Colorado-Boulder.

The study findings were published this month in the journal Environmental Hazards. Among other conclusions, the researchers reported that there’s a big middle ground between climate change “believers” and “deniers,” and that it wasn’t possible to sort homeowners into those distinct camps.

Younger people and those with higher levels of education were more likely to agree that climate change is real and there was general agreement that climate change and wildfire risk are related.

A smaller percentage agreed that climate change has increased wildfire risk along the Front Range. However, believing in climate change and believing it had increased the risk of wildland fire in Colorado did not mean they would necessarily be more likely to take action on their private property to reduce risk.

“The conventional wisdom that a belief about climate change is a prerequisite for mitigating local climate change impacts was not found in this analysis,” said co-author Patricia Champ, with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. “This was also a surprise.”

The study suggests that focusing on locally relevant hazards “may be a more useful tool for galvanizing awareness, concern, and risk-reduction actions.”

Authors of the paper include: Hannah Brenkert-Smith and James R. Meldrum, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado Boulder; and Patricia A. Champ, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. Funding for survey data used in this study was provided by Boulder and Larimer Counties of Colorado, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Colorado State Forest Service.



2 thoughts on “Study shows nuances in Coloradans beliefs about wildfires and climate change

  1. Cutting back your climate mitigating vegetation to protect your climate change causing mountain home in no way equates to any believe in anthropogenic climate change. Why would this be a surprise?

    1. Because they thought their brainwashing tactics through the educational system and mainstream media were more effective than they actually are…

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