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Climate Change Skepticism Unchanged Even After Experience With Extreme Weather

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Lisa Winter

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119 Climate Change Skepticism Unchanged Even After Experience With Extreme Weather
DVIDSHUB via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The phrase “global warming” gives the impression that only hot weather is associated with the phenomenon. Many scientists have largely adjusted the language away from that phrase in favor of “climate change” to more accurately reflect what those warming temperatures actually entail. Weather to the extreme, including droughts, floods, and storms, are becoming more frequent as average global temperatures increase.

However, despite having experienced this extreme weather first hand, a new study has found that some climate change skeptics are unwilling to change their position. This position was largely influenced by an individual’s political persuasion. The study’s lead author is Aaron McCright of Michigan State University, and the results were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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Winter 2012 was the fourth warmest in the last 115 years, and nearly 80% of Americans polled by Gallup reported feeling that temperatures during that winter were higher than normal. McCright’s team was initially encouraged, because those who claimed the weather felt warmer actually lived in areas where temperatures were higher than normal.

“Those results are promising because we do hope that people accurately perceive the reality that’s around them so they can adapt accordingly to the weather,” McCright said in a press release.

However, this optimism was short lived, as only 30% of the 1000 people polled attributed that warming to climate change. Forty-six percent of people polled attributed the changes to normal temperature fluctuations.

“Many people already had their minds made up about global warming and this extreme weather was not going to change that,” McCright added.

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The study also found that political persuasion correlated with how pollees felt about the cause of the warmer temperatures. Of the Republicans that reported warmer weather, only 19% believed climate change played a role. While that number did increase to 28% of Independents, 43% of polled Democrats pinned the warm weather on the changing climate. Sadly, this means that even when experiencing the problem first hand, it isn’t enough to change the mind of those who are skeptical.

“There’s been a lot of talk among climate scientists, politicians and journalists that warmer winters like this would change people’s minds,” McCright explained. “That the more people are exposed to climate change, the more they’ll be convinced. This study suggests this is not the case.”

A recent, unrelated study from Duke University found that people are more likely to believe a particular issue is a problem if they are in favor of the solution. The study got as many as 55% of Republicans on board with climate change, by framing the solution around new technologies in the free market, opposed to the 22% who believed it was a problem that could be solved with government restrictions.

Understanding how certain groups of people approach problems could help change how the conversation regarding the important matter of climate change will proceed.

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[Header image: DVIDSHUB via Flickr, CC BY 2.0]


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