Pictures of polar bears on melting ice caps make little difference to climate campaigns because people do not care about global warming until it happens on their doorstep, a survey has found.
Nick Pidgeon, Professor of Environmental Psychology at Cardiff University, showed for the first time that people with a direct experience of flooding are more likely to believe in man made climate change.
He said “scare” tactics, such as warning people of floods in Bangladesh or desertification in Sudan, are less likely to motivate people to take action.
“Polar bear images and melting glaciers do raise people's concern but they feel disempowered because they cannot do anything about it, whereas the local thing they understand,” he said.
The survey of 2,000 people in Britain, published in Nature, also found victims of floods are more willing to change their lifestyles to tackle global warming. For example by reducing energy use and taking less long haul flights.
Prof Pidgeon said people are becoming immune to the extreme risks of climate change in the Arctic and Amazon but they are likely to engage on the real risks of flooding and drought at home.
He also said people are more likely to act if they are given positive messages about what they can do.
“All the evidence shows you should be measured in showing people the risk but you can also be clear about the actions they can take. Scaring them will just put them off,” he added.