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Why You Do--or Do Not--Think Climate Change is Real

It's not just your furniture that effects your beliefs--when it comes to climate change, it's the weather where YOU are, so people who live in places where the climate is good tend to deny this reality, while those living in places experiencing warmer-than-normal temperatures are significantly more likely than others to say there is evidence for global warming. Maybe this is also because so little about climate change is published in your local press.

Researchers Patrick Egan and Megan Mullin write: "Global climate change is one of the most important public policy challenges of our time, but it is a complex issue with which Americans have little direct experience (although SOME of us do). As they try to make sense of this difficult issue, many people use fluctuations in local temperature to reassess their beliefs about the existence of global warming."

Their study examined five national surveys of American adults sponsored by the Pew Research Center: June, July, and August 2006, January 2007, and April 2008. In each survey, respondents were asked the following question: "From what you've read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not?" On average over the five surveys, 73% of respondents agreed that the earth is getting warmer.

Egan and Mullin wondered about variation in attitudes among the survey's respondents, and hypothesized that local temperatures could influence perceptions. To measure the potential impact of temperature on individuals’ opinions, they looked at zip codes from respondents in the Pew surveys and matched weather data to each person surveyed at the time of each poll. They used local weather data to determine if the temperature in the location of each respondent was significantly higher or lower than normal for that area at that time of year.

Their results showed that an abnormal shift in local temperature is associated with a significant shift in beliefs about evidence for global warming. Specifically, for every three degrees Fahrenheit that local temperatures in the past week have risen above normal, Americans become one percentage point more likely to agree that there is "solid evidence" that the earth is getting warmer. The researchers found cooler-than-normal temperatures have similar effects on attitudes, but in the opposite direction.

When it comes to climate change, we try not to be swayed by pubic opinion--we look for the fact and have just updated our Climate Watch section. If that kind of reporting is important to you, please support what we do and subscribe today!



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