Belief in global warming

It changes with the weather

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EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD

global warming

A study says Americans' willingness to believe in global warming changes with the weather. The research appears in the online journal Climatic Change.

The study, which looks at public attitudes towards climate change over the last 20 years, says that in the United States skepticism about increases in global temperatures rises during cold snaps and sinks again whenever temperatures rise. So short-term experience rules the perception of a long-term problem.

The researchers evaluated public opinion polls on climate change and media coverage by U.S. newspapers, and quantified the correlation between changes in average national temperatures and changes in poll results, and in the number and nature of media opinion pieces on climate change. Though many other factors affect people's attitudes, the findings of the study suggest that ephemeral weather events do strongly influence the public's beliefs whenever they are major enough to make the news.

global warming map
Average surface temperature increases, 2000-2009, due to global warming (in comparison with average temperature 1951-1980).

"Our findings help to explain some of the significant fluctuations and inconsistencies in U.S. public opinion on climate change," says University of British Columbia Geography professor Simon Donner a coauthor of the study. "We find that, unfortunately, a cold winter is enough to make some people, including many newspaper editors and opinion leaders, doubt the overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue."

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Based on materials obtained from the AAAS


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