Warmer-than-usual temperatures influence people’s perception of how the climate is warming but not their attribution of such warming to human causes, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Climate Change.
People’s perception of environmental changes (including temperature anomalies) tends to be accurate, aligning with instrumental measurements; however it is unclear whether perceived environmental changes have an impact on beliefs about climate change.
Aaron McCright and colleagues analyse the impact of winter 2012 temperature measurements in the contiguous United States (the fourth warmest winter on record in the country since 1895) and political orientation on warmer-than-usual temperatures perception and people’s attribution of such unusual temperatures to human-induced climate change. They merged state-level winter temperature measurements with individual-level survey data from Gallup’s 2012 environmental poll. The poll data included information on political ideology, party identification, perceived scientific agreement about the occurrence of global warming and existing climate change beliefs.
Their results show that actual temperature data have a strong influence on perception of temperature anomalies, but do not drive attribution of such anomalies to human-induced climate change. Instead, perceived scientific consensus, existing beliefs and political orientation significantly explain both perception and attribution.
These results suggest that, across the US, perceived warming can induce adaptive behaviour, but is at present unlikely to build public support for policies to mitigate carbon emissions.