Climate Change Skepticism May Hinge on Personal Experience

Scientists show that local high and low temperatures can affect belief in global warming

In 2014, an influx of freezing air from the North Pole’s polar vortex dropped temperatures to record lows across the United States, and even caused snow and freezing rain to fall in usually balmy southern states. Extreme weather events like this can stick in people’s minds, and record lows can even affect their belief in global warming. Photo by Vernon Doucette

By Caitlin Bird

Robert Kaufmann, BU professor of Earth and environment, has shown that local high and low temperatures can influence whether people in the United States believe in global warming. Recent record low temperatures were especially powerful in promoting climate change skepticism. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
A map of United States counties shows how well Kaufmann’s measure of climate change predicts where people agree that Earth’s climate is warming. In dark red counties, record high temperatures are more recent and predict that people would believe that the globe is warming, and they do. On the other side, dark blue counties show record low temperatures are more recent and predicted people would be skeptical, and, again, that was found to be the case. Image courtesy of the National Academy of Sciences

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