Americans believe climate change connected to location and local weather
Researchers found local experiences and temperatures drive belief or non-belief in climate change
A new study finds local weather may play an important role in Americans’ belief in climate change. The study, published on Monday, found that Americans’ belief that the earth is warming is related to the frequency of weather-related events they experience, suggesting that local changes in their climate influence their acceptance of this worldwide phenomenon.
“One of the greatest challenges to communicating scientific findings about climate change is the cognitive disconnect between local and global events,” said Michael Mann, associate professor of geography at George Washington University and co-author of the paper. “It is easy to assume that what you experience at home must be happening elsewhere.”
The researchers found that Americans who experience more record highs than lows in temperature are more likely to believe the earth is warming. Conversely, Americans who live in areas that have experienced record low temperatures, such as southern portions of Ohio and the Mississippi River basins, are more skeptical that the earth is warming.
The study notes that part of this dichotomy may be because of the early terminology used to describe climate change that suggested the earth was simply warming – not changing in innumerable but measurable ways. This might have led residents living in areas that experienced an unusually cold winter to doubt that climate change is occurring.
“Who do Americans trust about climate change; scientists or themselves?” said Robert Kaufmann, professor in the department of geography and the Center for Energy & Environmental Studies at Boston University and lead author of the paper. “For many Americans, the answer seems to be themselves.”
The researchers also found that a recent period of lower-than-average temperatures offset the effect of a long warming period, further supporting their findings that people’s belief in climate change is local and experiential.
The scientists note the importance of differentiating between weather, the temperatures of a relatively short period of time such as a season, and climate, the average temperatures over a period of 25 or 30 years. Emphasizing the difference between weather and climate may help scientists more effectively communicate about climate change.
The paper, “The Spatial Heterogeneity of Climate Change: An Experiential Basis for Skepticism,” was published in Proceedings National Academy of Sciences.
We postulate that skepticism about climate change is partially caused by the spatial heterogeneity of climate change, which exposes experiential learners to climate heuristics that differ from the global average. This hypothesis is tested by formalizing an index that measures local changes in climate using station data and comparing this index with survey-based model estimates of county-level opinion about whether global warming is happening. Results indicate that more stations exhibit cooling and warming than predicted by random chance and that spatial variations in these changes can account for spatial variations in the percentage of the population that believes that “global warming is happening.” This effect is diminished in areas that have experienced more record low temperatures than record highs since 2005. Together, these results suggest that skepticism about climate change is driven partially by personal experiences; an accurate heuristic for local changes in climate identifies obstacles to communicating ongoing changes in climate to the public and how these communications might be improved.
We develop a simple heuristic to measure local changes in climate based on the timing of record high and low temperatures. The metric shows local cooling and warming in the United States and captures two aspects of experiential learning that influence how the public perceives a change in climate: recency weighting and an emphasis on extreme events. We find that skepticism about whether the Earth is warming is greater in areas exhibiting cooling relative to areas that have warmed and that recent cooling can offset historical warming. This experiential basis for skepticism of climate change identifies obstacles to communicating ongoing changes in climate to the public and how these communications might be improved.
So I’ve read the study, and it’s got one clear problem that I can see, which is obvious from their map – they didn’t account for local media exposure and political bias. Below is a map of how counties voted in the 2012 election, compared to Mann’s climate belief system map. Reds are right leaning (Republican), Blues are left leaning (Democratic). I’ve used this map, because it’s closer to the timeframe of the polling data from Mann’s study, IMO.
If you compare the grey areas, where belief in global warming due to weather events is high, you’ll note an obvious pattern: The darkest areas in Mann’s map match many of the bluest areas of the voting map. Places like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Miami, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Washington, DC and Chicago all have strong correlations with voting records.
This suggests that Mann’s study is pure bunk, and is more related to political leanings and media outlets for those areas pushing the AGW meme, than it has to do with weather.
Manntastic fantastic claim, shot to hell.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Well, I’ve made a mistake. The Michael Mann listed as author of the paper is not the Michael E. Mann, of Penn State, but a person of the same first and last names of George Washington University. The headline and last sentence have been corrected to fix that misidentification. (h/t to Roman M in comments) -Anthony