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"There's been a lot of talk among climate scientists, politicians, and journalists that warmer winters like this would change people's minds," says Aaron M. McCright. "That the more people are exposed to climate change, the more they'll be convinced. This study suggests this is not the case." (Credit: Andreas Åkre Solberg/Flickr)

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Odd weather doesn’t sway climate skeptics

Many scientists believe that enough droughts, floods, and heat waves will convince climate skeptics that global warming is real. A new study throws cold water on that theory.

Only 35 percent of US citizens believe global warming was the main cause of the abnormally high temperatures during the winter of 2012, Aaron M. McCright and colleagues report in a paper published online in Nature Climate Change.

“Many people already had their minds made up about global warming and this extreme weather was not going to change that,” says McCright, associate professor in Michigan State University’s sociology department and Lyman Briggs College.

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Winter 2012 was the fourth warmest winter in the United States dating back to at least 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some 80 percent of US citizens reported winter temperatures in their local area were warmer than usual.

The researchers analyzed 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 says.

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.

As this study and McCright’s past research shows, 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.

The abnormally warm winter was just one in an ongoing series of severe weather events—including the 2010 Russian heat wave, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines—that many believed would help start convincing global warming cynics.

“There’s been a lot of talk among climate scientists, politicians, and journalists that warmer winters like this would change people’s minds,” McCright says. “That the more people are exposed to climate change, the more they’ll be convinced. This study suggests this is not the case.”

McCright’s coauthors are Riley E. Dunlap of Oklahoma State University and Chenyang Xiao of American University.

Source: Michigan State University

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