Public Perceptions of Spatial Analogs for Climate Change: A Survey of Centre Region, Pennsylvania Residents

Open Access
Retchless, David Pahl
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
Committee Members:
  • Brenton Yarnal, Thesis Advisor
  • Pennsylvania
  • communication
  • spatial analogs
  • perceptions
  • climate change
People discount projected impacts of climate change that they see as spatially or temporally remote. To overcome this perceptual barrier, climate change outreach must communicate impacts as local, concrete, immediate and situated in a well-understood frame of reference. Spatial-analog mapping may meet this challenge: by drawing on peoples’ experience of existing climates, this technique matches a locality’s projected climates with present-day climates of other localities. However, analog maps’ effect on climate impact perceptions has not been compared with the effect on climate impact perceptions elicited by standard climate change mapping techniques. Accordingly, I consider whether residents of Centre Region, Pennsylvania who are shown maps of spatial analogs for future Centre Region temperatures perceive impacts as more salient than do residents shown the same temperature change information directly using color- banded isallotherm maps. I also consider whether residents respond differently when this information is presented using only text, only maps, or both maps and text. An online survey of 3094 members of 11 Centre Region organizations presents the maps and/or text and then assesses respondents’ impact perceptions. Based on 444 valid responses, I find that respondents using spatial-analog survey forms generally expect impacts to be less severe and disruptive than respondents using temperature-change forms. I also find that respondents using survey forms with maps generally expect impacts to be more severe and disruptive than respondents using text-only forms. These results inform vital decisions about communicating climate change information to the public.