Beyond the Tipping Point: Understanding Perceptions of Abrupt Climate Change and Their Implications

Rob Bellamy*, Mike Hulme

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the influence of personal values and ontological beliefs on people's perceptions of possible abrupt changes in the Earth's climate system and on their climate change mitigation preferences. The authors focus on four key areas of risk perception: concern about abrupt climate change as distinct to climate change in general, the likelihood of abrupt climate changes, fears of abrupt climate changes, and preferences in how to mitigate abrupt climate changes. Using cultural theory as an interpretative framework, a multi-methodological approach was adopted in exploring these areas: 287 respondents at the University of East Anglia (UK) completed a three-part quantitative questionnaire, with 15 returning to participate in qualitative focus groups to discuss the issues raised in more depth. Supporting the predictions of cultural theory, egalitarians' values and beliefs were consistently associated with heightened perceptions of the risks posed by abrupt climate change. Yet many believed abrupt climate change to be capricious, irrespective of their psychometrically attributed worldviews or "ways of life." Mitigation preferences-across all ways of life-were consistent with the "hegemonic myth" dominating climate policy, with many advocating conventional regulatory or market-based approaches. Moreover, a strong fatalistic narrative emerged from within abrupt climate change discourses, with frequent referrals to helplessness, societal collapse, and catastrophe.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberN/A
Pages (from-to)48-60
Number of pages13
JournalWeather, Climate and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011




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