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Perceptions of climate change risk in four disaster-impacted rural Australian towns

Abstract

Australia, a country which has regularly experienced various natural disasters, is now set to face more intense and frequent disasters in the twenty-first century as a result of climate change. Prior research indicates that in Australia, the perceived risks of climate change are mixed and becoming less prevalent across rural and urban locations, posing a threat to the public’s adoption of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Research was conducted in four disaster-impacted rural Australian towns to investigate whether prior disaster experience, trust in climate change risk communications and specific location predicted climate change risk perceptions. Four case study sites were chosen exemplifying communities impacted by different types of disaster events. The case study towns were Beechworth (wildfire, 2009) and Bendigo (drought, 2002–2008) in Victoria; Ingham (flood, 2009) and Innisfail (cyclone, 2006) in Queensland. Structural equation modelling analyses of surveys returned by a sample of 1,008 householders across the four towns showed that prior disaster experience had no impact upon climate change risk perceptions. Instead climate change risk perceptions were predicted by trust in climate change communications, climate change knowledge and the geographical location of the sample, suggesting the need for targeted, place-specific contextual communication interventions that consider the needs and socioeconomic characteristics of the community in question.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded through the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, which is an initiative of, and funded by the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The views and opinions expressed in this publication not necessarily the views of the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained herein.

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Correspondence to Helen Joanna Boon.

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Editor: Helga Weisz.

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Boon, H.J. Perceptions of climate change risk in four disaster-impacted rural Australian towns. Reg Environ Change 16, 137–149 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-014-0744-3

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Risk
  • Disaster
  • Rural
  • Australia
  • Trust
  • Communications
  • Structural equation modelling