Wellbeing and the environment – the impact of the bushfires and the pandemic

Wellbeing and the environment – the impact of the bushfires and the pandemic
Author/editor: Biddle, N, Edwards, N & Makkai, T
Year published: 2021


The 2019/20 Australian Spring and Summer was one of the hottest on record, with bushfires (wildfires) devastating large parts of the Australian continent. The fires resulted in the loss of thousands of properties, deaths of civilians and firefighters, deaths of wildlife estimated to be in the hundreds of millions or even billions, and large-scale emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. Earlier in 2019, the government of Scott Morrison was returned in a national election, fought in part on action or lack thereof to climate change. During the fires, the climate record of the Morrison Government was severely criticised (in Australia and internationally), as was the short-term response to the fires. Since the bushfire season, Australia (like other countries around the world) has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, taking the focus away from environmental issues and focusing them on economic and public health challenges. A key question for public opinion research is whether a climactic event like that experienced in Australia can have large effects on public opinion, and whether that effect is maintained during another external shock (the COVID-19 pandemic). The aim of this paper is to make use of longitudinal public opinion data from the ANUpoll series of surveys to answer the following questions: How do public attitudes towards climate change and related policy change after an extreme weather event? Are there differences in the change between those who were directly exposed and those who were not? Are there differences in the change based on pre-existing political beliefs? Do those who are exposed to the negative aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic change their opinions again, prior to the subsequent fire season?

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