Survey results published in the journal Nature Climate Change this week have proven dumbfounding, to say the least. The results suggested that for Americans “personal experience with weather or climate variability may help cultivate support for adaptive measures, but it may not increase support for mitigation policies.” In other words, while people generally recognized that change was happening, many would rather deal with the fallout later than make any lifestyle changes now that would involve curbing climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The survey, led by Michigan State University sociologist Dr. Aaron McCright, investigated Americans’ attitudes towards and perceptions of climate change and found that while respondents for the most part recognized extreme weather events and warmer-than-historical temperatures, whether they attributed them to broader global warming was influenced by a number of factors, including political persuasion. Perception of scientific agreement and beliefs about the current onset, human causality, and the threat and seriousness of global warming were also contributing factors.
The study drew upon weather data for the lower 48 states for January, February and March, 2012. According to the National Climatic Data Center, this was the warmest first quarter period on record, at 6˚F above the long-term average. March was 8.6˚F higher than the long-term record. The survey team then investigated data from a nationwide Gallup poll undertaken at the end of that period in which respondents were asked about the warmer-than-usual winter and what they thought may have contributed to it. The team wanted to ensure respondents were commenting on an agreed extreme weather event, rather than making a personal assessment of whether it was an extreme event or not.
The survey’s authors note “that actual temperature anomalies influence perceived warming but not attribution of such warmer-than-usual winter temperatures to global warming.” Contributing researcher Riley Dunlap observed: “What’s so interesting is that we do find that Republicans were slightly less likely to say the winter was warmer.” The team noted that such results were “not surprising given the politicization of climate science and political polarization on climate change beliefs in recent years.”
As McCright observed in the Christian Science Monitor, policymakers, scientists and global warming activists “have this belief that as more and more Americans experience climate change, their opinions will change. That’s a fairly strong belief, [but] this is not as reasonable an assumption as we think. We’d have to see stronger extremes hitting you over and over again to see people’s views change.”