Study gauges concerns about climate change in Great Lakes coastal communities

Participating in outdoor recreation appears to have impact on climate change beliefs.

Greater involvement in outdoor recreation activities was associated with people identifying with the “Cautious, Concerned, and Alarmed” categories on climate change beliefs. Photo: Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant

Greater involvement in outdoor recreation activities was associated with people identifying with the “Cautious, Concerned, and Alarmed” categories on climate change beliefs. Photo: Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant

Coastal communities and sensitive coastal ecosystems experience a variety of weather-related impacts that are influenced by changing climatic conditions. Michigan State University professor Patricia Norris with students Brockton Feltman and Jessica Batanian have published their findings on Northern Michigan residents’ opinions about climate change in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

The study, funded by Michigan Sea Grant and partners, replicated the “Six Americas of Global Warming” to understand survey respondents in the Grand Traverse Bay region. The “Six Americas” framework assesses individual beliefs about, concern about, and level of engagement with climate change to characterize belief typologies on a spectrum of:

  • Alarmed
  • Concerned
  • Cautious
  • Disengaged
  • Doubtful
  • Dismissive

Range of responses

The authors found nearly 70 percent of those living in the Grand Traverse Bay region, an area dominated by agricultural land use and highly dependent upon natural resource tourism, were categorized as “Cautious, Concerned, or Alarmed” about the issue. Furthermore, the percentage of individuals in the “Doubtful” category (almost 10 percent) was lower than the 2012 national average (13 percent), but the percentage of those in the “Dismissive” category (15 percent) was higher than the 2012 national average (8 percent). The authors attributed this rather large range of responses to the fact residents were surveyed during the summer immediately following the “polar vortex” during the 2013-2014 winter months, and individuals in the area are very attuned to local weather changes.

Outdoor recreation plays role in awareness

There is also evidence that different sociodemographic characteristics are associated with the “Six Americas” categories. For example, the authors found that greater involvement in outdoor recreation activities, higher levels of education, and lower levels of income were associated with the “Cautious, Concerned, and Alarmed” categories. On the other hand, males and older individuals tended to be more dismissive of or disengaged with climate change than their counterparts.

Perhaps encouraging people to participate in outdoor activities, appealing to residents’ sense of altruism, providing practical environmentally friendly alternatives, or considering different approaches to informing community members about climate change will all be useful strategies to prepare for an uncertain future.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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