Who is Concerned About Climate Change When Forests Are Burning? Evidence From Swedish Forest Fires
37 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2023
Date Written: November 1, 2023
I examine how individuals update their environmental attitudes in response to climate events using the extensive Swedish forest fires in 2018. Political scientists have suggested that motivated reasoning contributes to political divergence in environmental attitudes over time. It remains empirically unclear whether the growing prominence of climate events could potentially bridge these political divides in attitudes. I document rising environmental concerns following the fires. The extent of these increases was weakly influenced by the intensity of local fires but strongly affected by individuals' prior beliefs. Left-leaning individuals exhibited stronger prior concerns and experienced a significant escalation in their degree of concerns relative to right-leaning individuals. The growing disparity in concerns suggests that climate events exacerbate political polarization in environmental attitudes rather than mitigate it. I also find that exposure to climate change news did not contribute to the political polarization of concerns, strengthening the interpretation that motivated reasoning along partisan lines shapes differential reactions to climate disasters.
Keywords: Political polarization; climate extremes; forest fires; environmental attitudes; climate change concerns
JEL Classification: D72, D83, D91, Q54
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation