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Whether People Believe in Climate Change Depends on the Current Temperature

The general public and the media alike still have a heck of a time distinguishing weather from climate.

Here in New England, there's an age-old maxim about the weather: Don't like the weather? Wait an hour. Well now, as a study out of Columbia University has proven, if you don't agree with someone's position on climate change, you can try the same. Wait an hour, and maybe they'll flip flop.

The study, published last week in Psychological Science, found that "those who thought the current day was warmer than usual were more likely to believe in and feel concern about global warming than those who thought the day was unusually cold."

Maybe this shouldn't come as the biggest shock—the general public and the media alike have a heck of a time distinguishing weather from climate—but it's still interesting and somewhat disturbing to see it laid out bare like this.

Lead author Ye Li, a psychology grad student working at Columbia Business School in affiliation with the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, gets to the essence of the real problem:

Global warming is so complex, it appears some people are ready to be persuaded by whether their own day is warmer or cooler than usual, rather than think about whether the entire world is becoming warmer or cooler. It is striking that society has spent so much money, time and effort educating people about this issue, yet people are still so easily influenced.


It's not just "striking," but its downright disturbing. I'm having a harder and harder time lately believing that the facts and truth alone are enough to convey to Americans the urgency of the climate challenge. It just seems that on practically every front, the facts are ignored—or, sometimes, intentionally obscured—and the public simply believes whatever is convenient at the moment. I believe that some time within the next twenty years, the vast majority of the public will not only believe in the scientific reality of climate change, but also well understand its severity and the urgency of the challenge. But I worry that that widespread acceptance isn't going to come until the atmosphere is so loaded with greenhouse gases that the fingerprints of global warming are all over every weather event. And at that point, it's going to be too late to avoid some of the worse fates of climate change.

Photo (cc) by saturnism on Flickr.

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