An assessment of public perceptions of climate change risk in three western U.S. Cities

Abigail Sullivan, Dave White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Risk perceptions influence individual and collective action related to climate change, and there is an important gap between public and expert perceptions of climate change risk, especially in the United States. Past studies have found that on average 40% of the American public believe climate change will affect them personally. We contribute a study of climate change risk perceptions in the metropolitan areas of three western U.S. cities (Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona), assessing overall patterns and drivers. A representative mail survey (N 5 786) of the general public in these cities revealed that 60% of respondents identified climate change as personally risky, with the perception that it will impact either their family or their city in the next 30 years. Our results indicate that the gap in risk perceptions between the public and experts may be decreasing, although we discuss several limitations and reasons why this result requires further investigation. Using regression models, we analyze factors that are hypothesized to drive risk perceptions and discover that pro-environmental worldview and perceived personal responsibility are the most influential predictors. We discuss the implications of our results for fostering collective action to address climate change in dry, western U.S. metropolitan areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)449-463
Number of pages15
JournalWeather, Climate, and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science


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