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Coping with Climate Change

Climate change is a source of anxiety and stress. To be resilient to the changes that are occurring, individuals must cope with that stress. Because there are many ways that people might manage stress we examined variation in coping strategy use among Americans who reported some concern about climate change to understand generally how people cope with such stress, and whether it can be predicted from individual difference factors, namely degree of climate change concern and political ideology. We examined these variables specifically because in the study of responses to climate change, conservatives and liberals often report divergent beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. To investigate these questions, we conducted two studies, recruiting American adults via MTurk (Study 1 N = 425, Study 2 N = 247). Participants completed online surveys with measures of how concerned they were about climate change, what they were stressed about in relation to climate change, how they cope with such stress, using the Brief COPE inventory (Carver, 1997), and political ideology. A variety of stressful experiences were reported, ranging from observations about changing weather to concerns about political inaction. We find that certain coping strategies (e.g., acceptance and active coping) are highly reported, whereas some strategies are less used (e.g., substance use). Overall, use of almost all coping strategies was found to be related to levels of concern about climate change – greater concern predicted greater use of most strategies. However, political ideology moderated the relationships between concern and use of certain coping strategies – conservatives who are more concerned were using more avoidant strategies to cope (i.e., disengagement), whereas the relationship was positive, but weaker for liberals. We did not observe such an interaction for problem-focused or social-focused coping strategies. The implications of these findings around coping responses to climate change in relation to the need for resilience are discussed.