Cold Weather Breeds Climate-Change Doubters

A new study finds local weather may play an important role in Americans’ beliefs about climate change. (Mark Buckawicki)

(CN) – People living in areas with periods of freezing weather are more likely to doubt climate change than those where the effects are already occurring, as local weather seems to shape a person’s views on the topic.

Researchers used data from a survey of 12,000 people in the United States from 2008 to 2013 to determine whether regional weather caused them to either reject or accept a particular view of climate change. The findings were published Monday in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“If you’re living in a place where there’s been more record cold weather than record heat lately, you may doubt reports of climate change,” said Utah State University researcher and study co-author Peter Howe. “Climate change is causing record-breaking heat around the world, but the variability of the climate means that some places are still reaching record-breaking cold.”

Failing to differentiate periodic cold spells from an increase in average global temperatures over decades likely stems from early terminology used to describe climate change, which focused on warming without explaining the associated broad range of effects.

“One of the greatest challenges to communicating scientific findings about climate change is the cognitive disconnect between local and global events,” said study co-author Michael Mann. “It’s easy to assume that what you experience at home must be happening elsewhere.”

The authors note the importance of separating weather – changes in temperature over weeks or a season in a given area, and climate – average temperatures of a period of 25 years or more. Emphasizing this difference is crucial to effectively explaining climate change.

“Our work highlights some of the challenges of communicating about climate change, and the importance of situating people’s experiences at the local level within the larger global context,” Howe said.