Survey Finds Hoosiers in Metro Areas View Climate Change Differently

September 18, 2020

Residents in metro areas across Indiana support initiatives to mitigate the impact of climate change, despite varying levels of belief in its existence, according to a new series of Indiana University reports.

The reports are a product of the Hoosier Life Survey, a statewide survey on environmental attitudes conducted by IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute. The survey offers insight into how seven Indiana metro areas are preparing for climate change and provides strategies to boost community resilience.

“In Indiana, local governments, organizations and individual citizens have already begun to prepare their communities for the impacts of climate change and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in order to lessen further change,” said Matthew Houser an IU sociologist and Environmental Resilience Institute research fellow who co-led the survey. “Our latest reports are designed to support these efforts and give a clearer understanding of how specific Hoosier communities view climate change. Local policymakers and stakeholders across the state can use these views to craft more targeted outreach strategies.”

Houser said that one of the biggest takeaways from the survey’s results is that the majority of respondents support programs and policies that would help prepare their communities for the impacts of climate change.

“In many cases, we see implementable solutions — such as community tree planting, funding for solar panels or increasing urban green spaces — are supported by the majority and often the vast majority of the residents of each metro area,” he said.

This is even the case in areas where belief in climate change is low. For instance, in the South Bend metro area, the survey shows that 63% of residents believe climate change is happening, while over 70% express support for a policy that would provide funds for residents to install solar panels on their homes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Another important outcome is the differences in the respondents’ attitudes about climate change.

“Our metro reports reveal a substantial amount of variation within the state of Indiana when it comes to climate change,” Houser said. “This variation suggests that, in dealing with climate change, a one-size-fits-all approach is likely not the best strategy and instead we should try to tailor outreach and implementation efforts to the specific communities across the state.”

Metro areas covered in the series include, Bloomington, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, New Albany-Jeffersonville, Northwest Indiana and South Bend-Mishawaka.

According to the results, South Bend-Mishawaka residents express relatively low levels of belief that climate change is happening compared to other metro areas. In Fort Wayne, residents show higher levels of trust in neighbors, family and friends regarding how to prepare for extreme weather. Other metro areas place greater trust in scientists.

The survey also showed:

• More than half of all respondents in the metro areas believe that most scientists think climate change is happening, but 21% of Evansville respondents believe that they do not know enough to say what scientists’ perspective of climate change is.

• In Bloomington, 7% of respondents have installed solar panels to reduce CO2 emissions and around half of all other metro-area respondents are interested in the installation of solar panels to reduce CO2 emissions.

• While nearly a majority of metro home owners in the state expressed interest in using rain barrels to collect water, 11% of homeowners in Northwest Indiana already do this.

• Most New Albany-Jeffersonville residents do not feel well-informed about what they can do to reduce the adverse impacts of extreme weather. Given a choice, they are much likelier to trust scientists for such information than they are state or local public officials.

Indianapolis-area homeowners expressed a high level of use or interest in several household climate resilience practices. For example, 25% of these respondents have planted prairie grass or wildflowers in their yards to help reduce lawn size.

Houser also highlighted the reason for the reports, noting that climate change is a global problem, but it requires local action to address.

“Hoosiers across the state are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Acting at the city or metro level is key if we are to avert the worst of climate change,” he explained. “We wanted these reports to show a path forward, especially toward the solutions that Hoosiers across the state were most ready to accept or even potentially be excited about.”

Conducted between August and December 2019, the Hoosier Life Survey captures how Indiana residents perceive environmental changes, how residents are being affected in their homes and communities, how Hoosiers are preparing and what they expect in the future. The survey was sent to 10,000 Hoosiers across eight pre-defined regions in the state to ensure adequate geographic coverage.

Survey Finds Hoosiers in Metro Areas View Climate Change Differently