We don’t experience climate; we experience weather. And a new study has found that what Americans believe about the changing climate often depends more on their personal experience than what is going on around the world.
There is a cognitive disconnect between local and global events and this represents one of the greatest challenges in communicating scientific findings about climate change.
Researchers found that Americans who experience more record highs than lows in temperature are more likely to believe that the earth is warming. Conversely, Americans who live in areas that have experienced record low temperatures – for example in southern Ohio and the Mississippi River basins – are more skeptical that the earth is warming.
Part of this dichotomy may be a result of the terminology often used to describe climate change – saying that the earth is warming – rather than the more complex fact that the climate is changing in innumerable but measurable ways.
Often, it comes down to a matter of trust. Whom do Americans trust about climate change: scientists or their own senses? For many, the answer seems to be themselves. And for most Americans – apart from many Alaskans – the effects of climate change are not yet obvious in their lives.
It is essential to differentiate between weather and the temperatures over a relatively short period such as a season, and climate and the average temperatures over a period of 25 or 30 years. Weather and temperatures during a season are something we all experience directly; climate affects the entire world over extended periods of time.
But unfortunately, for many people around the world, the effects of the changing climate are all too personal and are getting stronger all the time.
Photo, posted October 31, 2012, courtesy of Timothy Krause via Flickr.