Scales of perception: public awareness of regional and neighborhood climates
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- Ruddell, D., Harlan, S.L., Grossman-Clarke, S. et al. Climatic Change (2012) 111: 581. doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0165-y
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Understanding public perceptions of climate is critical for developing an effective strategy to mitigate the effects of human activity on the natural environment and reduce human vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. While recent climate assessments document change among various physical systems (e.g., increased temperature, sea level rise, shrinking glaciers), environmental perceptions are relatively under-researched despite the fact that there is growing skepticism and disconnect between climate science and public opinion. This study utilizes a socio-ecological research framework to investigate how public perceptions compared with environmental conditions in one urban center. Specifically, air temperature during an extreme heat event was examined as one characteristic of environmental conditions by relating simulations from the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) atmospheric model with self-reported perceptions of regional and neighborhood temperatures from a social survey of Phoenix, AZ (USA) metropolitan area residents. Results indicate that: 1) human exposure to high temperatures varies substantially throughout metropolitan Phoenix; 2) public perceptions of temperature are more strongly correlated with proximate environmental conditions than with distal conditions; and 3) perceptions of temperature are related to social characteristics and situational variables. The social constructionist paradigm explains public perceptions at the regional scale, while experience governs attitude formation at the neighborhood scale.