If it’s hot outside, you’re more likely to believe in climate change.
The public perception of climate change is shaped by the weather that people experience, according to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
People who live in areas where high temperature records are broken are more likely to believe in global warming than those who do not. In areas that experienced record lows, people were less inclined to believe in the mainstream climate science that shows human activity is warming the Earth.
People see climate change through a local lens, said Robert Kaufmann, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University. And in many areas of the country, the climate is not changing in the same way that it is for the entire planet.
That, of course, doesn’t mean climate science is wrong, since it doesn’t claim that all parts of the planet will warm in the same way. But the study shows that people’s daily weather experiences does lead to skepticism in areas not breaking heat records, he said.
“When personal experience and expert opinion don’t align on a topic that’s not critical to an individual’s well-being, they’re going to go with their gut rather than what the expert tells them,” Kaufmann said.
Researchers noted that the discrepancy resulted from the public’s equating of weather with climate, which many assume are the same. When they head outside and the weather is extremely hot and humid, they are more likely to believe in a warming climate, which is a weather trend that lasts for decades. In addition, the term “global warming” has convinced many people that they must feel record warmth for the theory of a hotter planet to hold true, researchers found.
The areas where many heat records are broken, and where public perception is tilted in the direction of mainstream climate science, included much of the West Coast and the Northeast. Areas where there is a high level of climate skepticism and record-breaking cold include Ohio and much of the Mississippi River Valley.
I’ll make up my own mind
The study was released on the same day that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared November the fifth hottest on record and again noted that 2016 would likely be the hottest year on record for global temperatures. The contiguous United States experienced its fifth warmest November ever recorded, according to NOAA.
Despite the gap in perception, a majority of Americans want more political and corporate responsibility on climate change, according to a survey from Yale University’s climate change communication program, released last week.
A majority of Americans favor political action on global warming, despite the presidential victory of Donald Trump, who questions climate science, the survey found. It shows that almost two-thirds of registered voters across all parties want the Trump administration and Congress to do more to address global warming. Almost three-quarters of Republicans and about 90 percent of Democrats want corporations to do more on climate change.
“For the most part, Americans want major institutions that have a lot of power and influence to do more on the issue on global warming,” said Matt Cutler, a Yale University researcher.
Still, Kaufmann said it’s human nature to trust one’s own experience over scientific evidence or political wisdom.
“Unless it really affects my everyday life, I’m not going to spend time studying this issue, and I’m not necessarily going to believe scientists either, especially now that experts are held in such ill repute, but I’m going to make up my mind based on how I can see and feel climate change,” he said. “For many people, that is record-high and record-low temperatures.”
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.