Public risk perceptions, understandings, and responses to climate change and natural disasters in Australia, 2010 and 2011

Media type: 
Joseph Reser
Graham Bradley
Ian Glendon
Michelle Ellul
Rochelle Callaghan
Griffith University


This report presents and discusses the findings of a second Australian national survey examining and monitoring public risk perceptions, understandings and responses to climate change and natural disasters undertaken between 15 July and 8 August of 2011.  The study complements and extends an initial study conducted in mid-2010 in conjunction with a similar survey undertaken by the Understanding Risk Research Centre at Cardiff University. The 2010 surveys are the subject of a previous NCCARF report at

The 2010 and 2011 surveys are distinctive in their social science based design, their longer term measurement and monitoring purpose, and their inclusion of multiple and standardised psychological questions and scales, allowing for in-depth multivariate analyses and cross study comparisons.  Together, the studies provide a robust research platform and database for the monitoring of important psychological and behavioural responses, impacts, and changes related to the threat and unfolding environmental impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.  Both the 2010 and 2011 Australian studies gathered data from geographically-stratified nation-wide samples using online questionnaires.  The 2010 study included responses from 3,096 Australians, approximately one-third of whom were re-surveyed as part of the 2011 exercise.  In addition to this longitudinal sample, 4,347 Australians were surveyed for the first time in 2011.  The current report presents findings based on the responses of these 4,347 new participants, and includes comparisons with findings from the 2010 Australian sample. A future report will present and discuss the responses of the longitudinal sample.

The pattern of responses reported here are broadly consistent with the overall picture that emerged from the 2010 survey.  These findings, and North American research findings (e.g., Romm, 2012; Villar, Krosnick, & Koczela, 2011), suggest that there was underlying stability with respect to public risk perceptions, understandings, and responses to climate change during 2010-2011.  In general, members of the 2011 sample, like their 2010 counterparts, were very accepting of the reality of climate change, very concerned about implications for Australia and the world, and actively engaged in considering what climate change might mean and require in terms of individual and community adaptations and adjustments, in an altering and uncertain natural environment.  Nonetheless, modest but significant changes across a number of risk perception and psychological response measures were found, with their status as expected fluctuations or more persistent and directional changes yet to be fully determined.  Evident risk perception, issue engagement, and adaptation changes were no doubt influenced by the extreme weather events that occurred in Australia and the world over this 12 month period, and by the ways in which these events have been discussed and reported (e.g., Bacon, 2011; Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Howe, 2012; Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Smith, & Hmielowski, 2012).

Further national surveys are needed to build on the current standardised research platform and database.

Please cite this report as:
Reser, JP, Bradley, GL, Glendon, AI, Ellul, MC & Callaghan, R 2012, Public risk perceptions, understandings, and responses to climate change and natural disasters in Australia, 2010 and 2011, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 245 pp.

Visit the project page
View the final report from the first survey
View the video presentation

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