Does the local weather determine if you believe in global warming?
Michael Mann, assistant professor in the department of geography at George Washington University, discusses the difference between climate and weather and how it affects our beliefs.
Michael Mann is an Assistant Professor of Geography at The George Washington University. Here he teaches classes on GIS, Python programming, and spatial modeling. His research has focused on the application of spatial data and econometric techniques to forecasting of human/natural systems interactions.
Local Weather and Belief in Climate Change
As humans, we have done quite well with learning based on experience. As children, we learned early on not to touch hot things on the stove to avoid being burned, and that tying your shoes will help to keep you from tripping. But while this type of experiential learning can help us learn basic lessons, it can hurt our understanding of more complex concepts.
In our study, we wanted to understand the relationship between people’s local experiences with weather and the likelihood they believe in climate change. We found that the two are closely related: In regions of the country that have experienced record-breaking heat, locals are more likely to believe in climate change. But people in areas that have experienced record low temperatures are less likely to trust the scientific consensus.
Scientists have demonstrated that climate change also makes local weather more variable and dramatic, leading to more rain and cooler temperatures in some areas, and drought and heatwaves in others. However, it’s also important to know the difference between weather, the temperatures of a relatively short period of time such as a season, and climate, the average temperatures over a period of 25 or 30 years.
Global temperatures are warming on average. In fact two leading U.S. science agencies just named 2016 the hottest year on record, but climate change is both long-term and complex.
It’s unfortunate that climate change was framed early on in people’s minds as imminent and universal ‘climate warming’. This set up an expectation that everyone could simply open their window and feel its damning effects. As result it has been difficult to for individuals to defend their understanding of the science during even a minor snowstorm. Therefore, we could learn much more about climate change from our grandparents than we can from opening up our windows.