When the Weather Outside is Frightful, Americans Find Climate Change Suspect

Image from freakyweather.com

If you want to change the mind of a climate change skeptic, argue with them on a warm day. These words of advice stem from studies done by researchers affiliated with Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), which found that people who thought the current day was warmer than usual were more likely to be concerned about global warming than those who thought the day was unusually cold.

Now, of course there are other factors at large in determining climate change belief, and the study controlled for variables such as political affiliation and gender. Still, they found that perceived temperatures had nearly two thirds the power of political belief, and six times the power of gender in influencing someones beliefs about global warming. What are the implications of this new information?

I suppose as human beings, we have evolved to respond to our environment, so perhaps these findings should come as no surprise. But it should tell us that we need to be careful about citing examples of the effects of climate change. I clearly remember Hurricane Katrina was often cited as a harbinger of climate change. It was certainly an horrific example of the devastation that can be caused, and served as a caution of dire times ahead, should climate change usher in more frequent and more powerful storms.

However, it was also a weather event. As were the heavy snows in the winter of 2009 – 2010, which were used by some for political purposes to discredit global warming as a hoax. The research by CRED supports the notion that weather can be a powerful lever for argument over climate change, but basically, an extremely fickle one. It won’t serve either side of the argument consistently.

So, perhaps we need to get into  post-climate-change-discussion mode. Emphasize the benefits of renewable energy that are independent of climate and weather effects, or promote more strongly the  problems of foreign oil dependence for example. There are lots of good reasons to reduce using fossil fuels that aren’t going to be derailed by a cold snap.

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

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