Climate skeptics take fire seriously

Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 10:12 PM
People who believe that climate change is increasing the risk of devastating wildfires in Colorado are not more likely to take mitigation actions to protect their property, according to a new study.

DENVER – Even though the majority of people believe climate change adds to wildfire risk, those people are not any more likely to take actions to prevent wildfire damage, according to a new study.

University of Colorado Boulder researchers, along with U.S. Forest Service officials, published the results of the recent survey in the journal Environmental Hazards.

Despite more than half of respondents acknowledging that climate change has increased wildfire risk in the state, those interviewed were not necessarily more likely to take action on their private property to mitigate potential damage from future blazes.

Oddly, those who are skeptical about climate change are actually more likely to take actions to prevent fire damage.

“A small but distinct portion of respondents who reject climate science as a ‘hoax’ are also the ones who reported doing significantly more risk-mitigation activities than other respondents,” said Hannah Brenkert-Smith, a research associate in the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at CU-Boulder and lead author of the study.

Risk-mitigation activities include installing a fire-resistant roof and thinning surrounding vegetation that could act as a potential fuel source, among other practices.

Forest officials say the study reveals that it may be more useful to focus on locally relevant hazards in terms of educating and motivating residents in fire-prone areas.

“The conventional wisdom that a belief about climate change is a pre-requisite for mitigating local climate-change impacts was not found in this analysis,” said study co-author Patricia Champ of the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station. “This was a bit of a surprise.”