C-PREE Bradford Seminar: Extreme Weather Events and the Politics of Climate Change Attribution

The consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly visible in the form of more severe wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding. As the science linking these disasters to climate change has grown more robust, it has led to pressure on politicians to acknowledge the connection. While an analysis of U.S. Congressional press releases reveals a slight increase in politicians’ willingness to do so, many remain hesitant. Why? We hypothesize that climate change attribution can backfire, harming politicians’ popularity and undermining their ability to adapt to the visible manifestations of climate change. We conduct an original survey experiment on a representative sample of American adults and show that when a politician links wildfires to climate change, Republicans perceive the official as less capable of addressing weather-related disasters. In addition, Republicans become less supportive of efforts to protect against similar disasters in the future. Our findings shed light on the potential trade-offs of conveying the link between climate change and its impacts.

Rebecca Perlman is an assistant professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Her primary field of research is international political economy, with a focus on regulatory politics, the governance of multinational firms, and environmental policy. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming at the American Journal of Political ScienceScience AdvancesComparative Political StudiesInternational Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Legal Analysis. Her book, Regulating Risk: How Private Information Shapes Global Safety Standards, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press and explores how producers leverage privately held safety information in order to win regulatory barriers to competition and trade at the domestic and international levels of governance.


The David Bradford Energy and Environmental Policy Seminar Series is coordinated by the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment (C-PREE), and co-sponsored by the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI). This lecture is also co-sponsored by the Department of Politics and the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics.

This in-person event is open to the Princeton University community. Members of the public may watch the seminar over livestream at http://mediacentrallive.princeton.edu/