Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Atlantic is worried that a few pleasantly warm days at the end of winter may be prompting “anxiety and unease” amongst the climate obsessed.
Is It Okay to Enjoy the Warm Winters of Climate Change?
The weather is nice, but it reminds us of the problems to come.
ROBINSON MEYER 10:45 AM ET
From D.C. to Denver, from Charlotte to Chicago, towns and cities across the United States have posted strings of record-breaking summery days in what is normally the final month of winter. Wednesday was only the third time since 1880 that Green Bay, Wisconsin, cracked 60 degrees Fahrenheit in February. Ice on the Great Lakes covers only a quarter of its normal surface area. And parts of Oklahoma and Texas have both already been scorched by 90-degree afternoons.
All in all, the United States has already set more than 2,800 new record high temperatures this month. It has only set 27 record lows.
Most people handle this weather as the gift it is: an opportunity to get outside, run or bike or play catch, and get an early jump on the spring. But for the two-thirds of Americans who are at least fairly worried about global warming, the weather can also prompt anxiety and unease. As one woman told the Chicago Tribune: “It’s scary, that’s my first thing. Because in all my life I’ve never seen a February this warm.” Or as one viral tweet put it:
“While we’re hearing over and over again that climate change is something we should fear, most people are experiencing it in a way that’s really quite comfortable,” says Megan Mullin, a political scientist at Duke University and one of the authors of the study. “What I take away from this is really a lesson for scientists. My Twitter stream is filled with these maps, over and over again, showing departures from historically average temperatures. In my mind, [that kind of messaging] is not going to motivate the public to treat this as a top priority.”
The abstract of the study referenced by the article;
Recent improvement and projected worsening of weather in the United States
Patrick J. Egan & Megan Mullin
As climate change unfolds, weather systems in the United States have been shifting in patterns that vary across regions and seasons. Climate science research typically assesses these changes by examining individual weather indicators, such as temperature or precipitation, in isolation, and averaging their values across the spatial surface. As a result, little is known about population exposure to changes in weather and how people experience and evaluate these changes considered together. Here we show that in the United States from 1974 to 2013, the weather conditions experienced by the vast majority of the population improved. Using previous research on how weather affects local population growth to develop an index of people’s weather preferences, we find that 80% of Americans live in counties that are experiencing more pleasant weather than they did four decades ago. Virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters that they typically prefer, and these mild winters have not been offset by markedly more uncomfortable summers or other negative changes. Climate change models predict that this trend is temporary, however, because US summers will eventually warm more than winters. Under a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions proceed at an unabated rate (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5), we estimate that 88% of the US public will experience weather at the end of the century that is less preferable than weather in the recent past. Our results have implications for the public’s understanding of the climate change problem, which is shaped in part by experiences with local weather. Whereas weather patterns in recent decades have served as a poor source of motivation for Americans to demand a policy response to climate change, public concern may rise once people’s everyday experiences of climate change effects start to become less pleasant.
Can you imagine these people lecturing their kids, telling them that instead of playing in the sun, they should feel worried about the end of the world? No wonder they’re all permanently depressed.