A large majority of Americans continue to understand that global warming is real. In fact, warming of the climate system in recent decades is “unequivocal,” according to comprehensive analysis of observations around the globe by the world’s leading climate scientists.
Most of the decline in understanding seen in recent polls comes from conservatives and conservative-leaning independents, who are incessantly hammered with the myth of “global cooling” in the conservative and mainstream media.
And, in a rather unfortunate coincidence, we’ve seen below average temperatures in parts of the United States over the last two years. That’s particularly true during this uber-warm winter.
Accuweather’s Joe Bastardi admitted earlier this month: “Earth continues warmest winter since satellite measurements started.” NASA’s recently released data confirms that December through February was the second warmest globally (after winter 2006/2007) since records began in 1880. NASA also released a figure showing where it was warm and where it was cold around the globe. Guess where it was cold:
Yes, during a blistering Dec-Feb planet-wide, it just happened to be relatively cool once again in the country with the biggest cumulative greenhouse gas emissions and with a political system unable to overcome a do-nothing minority of anti-science ideologues. Uber-meteorologist Jeff Masters goes through the data in his recent post, “An upside-down winter: coldest in 25 years in U.S., warmest on record in Canada.”
Stanford communications expert Jon Krosnick notes that “One factor that can influence opinion is the perception of local changes in the weather.” And since “June-August 2009 summer temperature for the contiguous United States was below average – the 34th coolest on record“:
As a result, when the November 2009 survey asked if average world temperatures were higher or lower in the last three years than in previous years, only 43 percent said higher, compared to 58 percent in the 2008 survey, which was conducted in the summertime.
As for the local weather’s impact on even more recent polling, consider that, as Nick Sundt blogged recently:
Winter 2009-2010 was only the second time in 16 years (since the cold winter of 1993-4) that the U.S. has had a winter colder than the long-term mean. The only other colder than normal winter during the 16 year period was the winter of 2000-2001. The trend in the U.S. is towards warmer winters, with temperatures increasing an average of 0.17oF per decade between 1880 and 2010.
It’s unfortunate that public opinion on this crucial issue in the most recalcitrant country is significantly influenced by the temperature over about only 2% of the planet. Now it is very likely to get very hot here on our current path of unrestricted emissions (see “Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year “” and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!“).
But obviously the annual and seasonal temperature trends of the contiguous United States are far more erratic than that of the planet as a whole, and that makes public opinion here — which is already subjected to the world’s most intense disinformation campaign and generally poor media coverage — far more hard to predict. The only good news is that in spite of the trendline on understanding of global warming, every major recent poll shows the public still strongly favors the transition to clean energy.