Global warming attitudes can shift with the winds
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Despite all the recent media coverage and public discussion of climate change issues, some people’s beliefs about global warming are still shaped by day-to-day weather, according to a new study by sociologists, geographers and climatologists. The study may illustrate one challenge facing climate scientists trying to differentiate between sensible weather and long-term climate shift.
Perhaps not surprisingly, those attitudes about climate change are also linked to political persuasion.
“We find that over 10 surveys, Republicans and Democrats remain far apart and firm in their beliefs about climate change. Independents fall in between these extremes, but their beliefs appear weakly held — literally blowing in the wind,” said Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology and senior fellow at the Carsey Institute, and New Hampshire state climatologist Mary Stampone, also an assistant professor of geography at UNH.
“Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to,” Hamilton and Stampone said.
Hamilton and Stampone used statewide data from about 5,000 random-sample telephone interviews conducted on 99 days over two and a half years (2010 to 2012) by the Granite State Poll. They combined the survey data with temperature and precipitation indicators derived from New Hampshire’s U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) station records.
Survey respondents were asked whether they thought climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. Alternatively, respondents could state that climate change is not happening, or that it is happening but mainly for natural reasons.
“Independent voters were less likely to believe that climate change was caused by humans on unseasonably cool days and more likely to believe that climate change was caused by humans on unseasonably warm days,” Hamilton said. “The shift was dramatic. On the coolest days, belief in human-caused climate change dropped below 40 percent among independents. On the hottest days, it increased above 70 percent.”
In conducting their analysis, the researchers took into account other factors such as education, age, and sex. They also made adjustments for the seasons, and for random variation between surveys that might be caused by nontemperature events.
The research is presented in the article “Blowin’ in the Wind: Short-Term Weather and Belief in Anthropogenic Climate Change” in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate, and Society.