Dynamics of Climate Change Belief in Rural and Wind Turbine Communities

December 1, 2018
Rio Mizuno**

As the most suitable sites for wind energy development, rural areas are integral to the growth of the renewable energy sector in the U.S. A crucial aspect of siting decisions lies in the opinions of the local community, for which environmental attitudes have a significant effect. One of the most prominent measures of these attitudes is belief in climate change. In this paper, we use data from a national survey of public opinion on energy policy to investigate the dynamics of belief in anthropogenic climate change based on rurality and the presence of existing wind turbines. Additionally, we analyze demographic data to better understand what underlies any variation in belief between those areas. We find that there is significantly more climate skepticism in rural populations than urban populations and in areas with turbines than without. We also find significantly higher belief that climate change is human-caused in urban areas compared to rural areas. However, through further analysis, we find that these locational variations are mediated through demographic factors associated with those areas—the most consequential being political affiliation. As a result, we do not find that rurality or wind turbine presence have a direct effect on belief in climate change. The higher rates of climate skepticism in rural areas should not be seen as discouraging, but rather as an insight that the framing of wind energy development should focus on economic aspects instead of environmental ones.