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Climate change beliefs shape the interpretation of forest fire events


Using a naturalistic quasi-experimental design and growth curve modeling techniques, a recently proposed climate change risk perception model was replicated and extended to investigate changes in climate change risk perception and climate policy support in relation to exposure to forest fires. At the start of the study, above-average indirect exposure to forest fires (e.g., through media and conversations) was associated with stronger climate change risk perception, but direct exposure to forest fires (e.g., seeing smoke) and other types of extreme weather events was not. Over time, changes in climate change risk perception were positively associated with changes in climate policy support. However, individual differences in growth trajectories occurred. For example, in this naturalistic setting without any intervention, the climate change risk perceptions of individuals with weaker perceptions of scientific agreement on climate change were less likely to be positively influenced by fire exposure than those of individuals with stronger perceptions of scientific agreement. These findings highlight the importance of tailoring climate change communication.

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The authors would like to thank Natalie Ban, Jiaying Zhao, and Myles Maillet.


This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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K. L. conceptualized the research and led the analysis. R. G. assisted with the research design and the acquisition of data. J. R. contributed to the analysis and interpretation of data. K.L. prepared the manuscript with input from all authors.

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Correspondence to Karine Lacroix.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Lacroix, K., Gifford, R. & Rush, J. Climate change beliefs shape the interpretation of forest fire events. Climatic Change 159, 103–120 (2020).

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  • Forest fire
  • Climate change risk perception
  • Climate policy support
  • Growth curve model
  • Latent growth model
  • Quasi-experimental