Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Apparently we’ve all become so used to unusual weather caused by climate change we haven’t noticed the world is ending.
The data is in. Frogs don’t boil. But we might.
By Nick Obradovich and Frances C. Moore February 25
Humans are amazingly adaptable creatures. We can live at the poles, in harsh deserts and even in space.
But sometimes our adaptability can be costly. Unhealthful diets, limited exercise, poor work-life balance, excessive time on social media — we each have bad habits we’ve become accustomed to that end up costing us in the long run. It takes an effort of will to recognize and modify the destructive patterns of behavior we’ve normalized.
However, the pace of our changing climate may also come with a downside. It may be easy for humans to normalize a climate that is, at least on geological-time scales, rapidly and dramatically changing.
Read more (paywalled): https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/02/25/data-are-frogs-dont-boil-we-might/
The abstract of the study;
Rapidly declining remarkability of temperature anomalies may obscure public perception of climate change
Frances C. Moore, Nick Obradovich, Flavio Lehner, and Patrick Baylis
The changing global climate is producing increasingly unusual weather relative to preindustrial conditions. In an absolute sense, these changing conditions constitute direct evidence of anthropogenic climate change. However, human evaluation of weather as either normal or abnormal will also be influenced by a range of factors including expectations, memory limitations, and cognitive biases. Here we show that experience of weather in recent years—rather than longer historical periods—determines the climatic baseline against which current weather is evaluated, potentially obscuring public recognition of anthropogenic climate change. We employ variation in decadal trends in temperature at weekly and county resolution over the continental United States, combined with discussion of the weather drawn from over 2 billion social media posts. These data indicate that the remarkability of particular temperatures changes rapidly with repeated exposure. Using sentiment analysis tools, we provide evidence for a “boiling frog” effect: The declining noteworthiness of historically extreme temperatures is not accompanied by a decline in the negative sentiment that they induce, indicating that social normalization of extreme conditions rather than adaptation is driving these results. Using climate model projections we show that, despite large increases in absolute temperature, anomalies relative to our empirically estimated shifting baseline are small and not clearly distinguishable from zero throughout the 21st century.
A more positive way of expressing this discovery, if we assume the weather anomalies are real, is that humans are adaptable – we would have no difficulty tolerating a few degrees of global warming.
But if the authors of the study had said something that upbeat, how would they have included their boiling frog metaphor?