CAFNR study finds park visitors unable to attribute negative impacts to climate change

The study showed that park visitors know little about climate change, but that they want to know more.

It can be hard to see concrete examples of the effects of climate change in the Midwest, Lisa Groshong, a doctoral candidate and research assistant in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, said. For this reason, Groshong and a team from the School of Natural Resources conducted a study to find out what state park visitors thought about climate change.

“The purpose of the study was to ask long-term, engaged state park users what climate change impacts they have noticed over the years and what role they think the state parks should play in mitigating these impacts,” Groshong said.

What the researchers found surprised them. In general, the results showed that most respondents had experienced the impacts of climate change, but that they could not link them to climate change with any certainty.

“I didn't anticipate how much people's perceptions of climate change would be connected with specific favorite activities,” Groshong said. “For example, people who love floating are most concerned about water quality and flooding from extreme weather. People who are into wildflowers have noticed shifts in when spring weather starts.”

Missouri is 5 percent below the national average in belief in global warming, according to polling from Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication.

Groshong laments this lack of knowledge about climate change in Missouri.

“Nobody is paying much attention to how people perceive climate impacts in a place where they are not immediately obvious,” Groshong said. “In places like Glacier National Park, interpretation can demonstrate the difference in the iconic glaciers over the last century, but in Missouri, the effects are much more subtle, though just as devastating.”

Groshong’s adviser, Sonja Wilhelm Stanis, believes that these beliefs can be changed over time with increased education.

“Our study shows that not only do they want reliable scientific information about climate change, but they want education and land management about specific, resource-related impacts that affect the activities they care about,” Stanis said.

Groshong said that many people see climate change as a political issue, even if they witness its impacts every day.

“In terms of educating the public, we need to stop framing climate change as a political issue and treat it like the dire threat to all of humanity that it is,” Groshong said. “The media can help with a small tweak: instead of covering climate change in terms of whether it's happening or not, journalists should instead compare and contrast different approaches to adaptation and mitigation.”

Groshong likes to use a medical analogy to think about this concept.

“It's the same as if you found out you had cancer — you wouldn't argue with your doctor about whether or not you had cancer, but would investigate and decide among the various ways to treat it,” Groshong said.

Groshong hopes that this study will be the beginning of an educational process about the impacts of climate change in Missouri, one that will help Missourians recognize those impacts when they see them.

The full study is published in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism and was co-authored by MU professor Mark Morgan.

Edited by Emily Wolf |

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