Is It Hot Outside? You Might Be More Likely to Believe in Global Warming

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AP Photo/Seth Wenig

A study recently published in Psychological Science suggests that daily weather dictates climate change opinion, indicating that “irrelevant environmental information, such as the current weather, can affect judgments.”

Researchers from the Columbia University Center for Decision Sciences asked residents in the United States and Australia to detail their climate change opinions and report whether the day’s temperature was warmer or colder than usual.  They found that “respondents who thought that day was warmer than usual believed more in and had greater concern about global warming than respondents who thought that day was colder than usual. They also donated more money to a global-warming charity if they thought that day seemed warmer than usual.” Such reasoning oversimplifies and belies the true nature of the climate change debate.

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The study cited both the complexity of and political sentiment surrounding climate science to explain why many people rely on trivial factors to form their own opinion. They observed that, “when asked about the reality of global warming, a complex and sometimes contentious topic, respondents may substitute their judgments about whether the weather on the current day is colder or warmer than expected, a far easier quantity to evaluate.” In other words, because daily, local temperature is more accessible, it may inappropriately replace global temperature trends as a means for understanding global warming.

Similarly, the authors of the study mentioned that reverse causation may lead people to let their pre-established judgments shape their responses, reasoning that “perhaps belief in global warming actually causes people to perceive the temperature as warmer than usual.”

As a whole, the findings indicate that convenience, lack of understanding and preconceived notions may influence the climate debate more so than the science itself does.

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