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Community climate change beliefs, awareness, and actions in the wake of the September 2013 flooding in Boulder County, Colorado

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Scholars and activists alike contend that extreme weather events may provide the best opportunity for raising public awareness and perhaps even instigating action related to climate change. We explore whether the September 2013 floods were associated with local climate change beliefs and actions after the event via an in-depth case study in Boulder County, CO. Based on analysis of local newspapers and policy documents, responses from an event-specific survey, and semi-structured interviews, we show that Boulder County residents readily connected the flooding event to climate change despite competing scientific claims about the link. Moreover, while the event did not necessarily alter existing climate change beliefs, it did create a greater sense of vulnerability to and increased awareness of the risks posed by climate change. In terms of climate change action after the event, residents and policymakers appeared to place a greater emphasis on adaptation to future extreme events, with a focus on building resilience through social capital. Yet, we also uncovered a complex relationship between social capital and resilience, particularly in terms of the impact of the event on already marginalized and vulnerable populations. This study adds to a growing body of research on climate change beliefs and actions in the wake of extreme weather events.

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Fig. 1


  1. For the NewsBank search function an asterisk (*) is a wildcard character that substitutes a subset of all possible characters. For example, the search term flood* returns keyword searches for flood, floods, flooding, flooded, floodplain, etc. All keywords are case insensitive.


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Funding for this work was provided in part by the National Science Foundation Sociology Program grant no. 1357055, Community Reactions to Extreme Weather Events. We would like to acknowledge the individuals from Boulder County who generously offered their time for interviews and surveys.

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Correspondence to Stephanie Shepard.

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Shepard, S., Boudet, H., Zanocco, C.M. et al. Community climate change beliefs, awareness, and actions in the wake of the September 2013 flooding in Boulder County, Colorado. J Environ Stud Sci 8, 312–325 (2018).

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