Will linking wildfire to climate change encourage people to reduce their wildfire risk?

Most residents in the Boulder or Larimer county WUI understand that climate change is happening. However, in a 2010 survey of these Colorado residents, nearly 1 in 10 believe that wildfire risk is not related to climate change, and nearly half of them do not believe that climate change has increased the wildfire risk in their county. In the same survey, significant proportions of respondents do not report performing various wildfire risk mitigation actions on their properties, ranging from 20-25% not maintaining the vegetation within 30 feet of buildings to 40% not using fire-resistant roofing and 82% not using fire-resistant decking materials.

In recent research, we explore whether these responses are related: are those who don’t believe in climate change or its impact on wildfires also those who don’t follow recommended actions for reducing the risk of wildfire to their home?

In short, the answer is no. In fact, while we find no general relationship between beliefs about climate change and wildfire risk-reduction actions, we do find that the small proportion of respondents who could be considered climate change deniers are among those doing the most to reduce the risk of wildfire on their properties.

These results suggest that discussing links between climate change and wildfires might not be effective for encouraging WUI residents to take mitigation action. Those already attuned to the wildfire risks associated with a changing climate are no more likely to mitigate that risk at their own homes. In light of the 11% of respondents who think “climate change is a hoax” undertaking higher than average levels of wildfire risk mitigation at home, this strategy might even backfire.

Of course, we infer these conclusions from looking at a cross section of beliefs and reported actions. There is a lot of potential nuance – including specific messages about climate-wildfire links that might encourage wildfire mitigation – that could be uncovered by further research, especially through experiments specifically targeting this result  For now, though, we encourage you to read more about this study and our findings here.

Source: Brenkert-Smith, Meldrum, and Champ (2015). Climate change beliefs and hazard mitigation behaviors: homeowners and wildfire risk. Environmental Hazards DOI: 10.1080/17477891.2015.1080656

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