Climate models should consider people’s perceptions of climate risk

sara metcalf.

Sara Metcalf, associate professor, Department of Geography


How dangerous is climate change, and how are extreme events such as hurricanes and wildfires linked to rising temperatures?

People’s perceptions of climate risks can influence society’s willingness to take measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. And that’s why climate models should take this aspect of human behavior into account when making predictions about future temperature increases and sea level rise, says Sara Metcalf, associate professor of geography.

“I would argue for a greater inclusion of social components in physical climate models,” says Metcalf, an expert on modeling with a long-standing interest in environmental issues. “There may be concern that including human behavior could increase the uncertainty of the models, but there’s a case to be made that it’s worth doing this. We can gain insights about what the true possibilities are for humans to affect the course of climate change, and what collective actions people could take to do things to help the situation.”

Metcalf has been working with colleagues across the U.S. over the past few years to link C-ROADS, an existing climate model, to a new social model they’ve created to explore how the perceived dangers of climate change influence behavioral change.

The result, published in 2018 in Nature Climate Change, was an integrated model that shows how changes in greenhouse gas emissions could influence global temperature and the frequency of extreme events, and how these events could alter attitudes toward climate change, resulting in behavioral adjustments in greenhouse gas production.


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Published March 26, 2019

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