What will it take to convince skeptics of global warming that the phenomenon is real? Droughts, floods and heat waves will begin to change minds.
But is attributing every weather event to climate change helping or hurting? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says media should not do it, but media know that in order to do news they also have to sell ads, so they will alternate Miracle Vegetable stories with Scare Journalism when it comes to science. When it comes to weather, if they can turn a Tropical Storm into a SuperStorm they will do it. The Polar Vortex has been around for thousands of years but now it is invoked for every flake of snow.
Is the public becoming jaded by increasing claims about global warming? Skeptics and proponents are not. It's instead likely that no weather event will change minds and that has sociologists dismayed. Only 35 percent of U.S. citizens believe global warming was the main cause of the high temperatures in 2012, write Aaron M. McCright and colleagues in Nature Climate Change.
Temperature readings before 1980 were not very accurate but it's what we have and using those, the winter of 2012 was the fourth warmest winter in the United States dating back to 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some 80 percent of U.S. citizens reported winter temperatures in their local area were warmer than usual.
Did it change any minds? Not according to surveys. The sociologists looked at March 2012 Gallup Poll data of more than 1,000 people and examined how individuals' responses related to actual temperatures in their home states. Perceptions of warmer winter temperatures seemed to track with observed temperatures.
"Those results are promising because we do hope that people accurately perceive the reality that's around them so they can adapt accordingly to the weather," McCright said.
But when it came to attributing the abnormally warm weather to global warming, respondents largely held fast to their existing beliefs and were not influenced by actual temperatures.
Previously, McCright has been the go-to academic for claims that political party identification plays a significant role in determining global warming beliefs. People who identify as Republican tend to doubt the existence of global warming, while Democrats generally believe in it.
This is true, and not unexpected in a two-party political system. More Democrats than Republicans believe that vaccines cause autism, that organic food has no chemicals and in ghosts. What does not change is willingness to conserve energy and recycle. So global warming deniers do not hate the environment, they protect it the same way fervent believers do.
It was hoped that drawing connections between weather events and climate change would correct political beliefs but just as the IPCC cautioned, it did not. Instead, claiming Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was caused by global warming caused critics to note that hurricanes have actually gone down in severity. The Russians know Russia better than American environmentalists and say the 2010 heat wave was nothing special. Manila has lots of typhoons.
"There's been a lot of talk among climate scientists, politicians and journalists that warmer winters like this would change people's minds," McCright said. "That the more people are exposed to climate change, the more they'll be convinced. This study suggests this is not the case."