In perceiving climate change, feeling the heat counts

Jan 24, 2013 by Eric Gershon
Credit: Shutterstock

(—Human beings around the world are observing and accurately detecting changes in their local climates, according to a new study led by Yale University researchers. The finding provides the first global evidence for the phenomenon and could have meaningful implications for attempts to combat climate change, they said.

"We wanted to see if people have accurately detected the signal of a through their own local experience," said Peter D. Howe, a postdoctoral associate at Yale and lead author of the study. "We found that many have noticed local changes, which may influence public responses to in coming years."

Published in Nature Climate Change, the study is based on Gallup World Poll surveys of about 91,000 individuals in 89 countries on five continents.

They were asked: "Over the past five years, would you say that the average annual temperatures in your local area have gotten warmer, colder, or stayed about the same?" Researchers at Yale, Columbia, and Princeton Universities then matched responses to the survey with data on ' local .

The researchers found that perceptions tended to match reality—people who reported that their local area was getting warmer were indeed experiencing temperatures over the previous 6 to 12 months that were relatively higher, on average, than those experienced by people who reported that their local area was getting colder or had stayed the same.

The study also found that respondents' perceptions were influenced by recent weather. If surveyed during the local warm season, people were 11 to 19 percent more likely to believe that local temperatures were rising over the long term than they were when questioned during a cool period.

Even after controlling for geographic, demographic, and seasonal effects, however, the study found that an increase of 1 degree Celsius above the long-term local average was associated with a 7 to 12 percent increase in the likelihood that people would report that their was getting warmer.

The paper appeared in Nature Climate Change in December. The Gallup World Poll was conducted in 2007 and 2008.

Researchers said they could not definitively show a causal relationship between local climatic conditions experienced by respondents and their perceptions. But they concluded that "the logical direction of the effect of changes in temperature on , and the lack of an alternative variable that would predict both actual and perceived temperature change suggests that changes in temperature are a causal influence on perceptions."

Explore further: When the isthmus is an island: Madison's hottest, and coldest, spots

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Climate change hits home

Mar 20, 2011

Direct experience of extreme weather events increases concern about climate change and willingness to engage in energy-saving behaviour, according to a new research paper published in the first edition of the journal Nature Cl ...

Recommended for you

Beijing's focus on coal lost in haze of smog

1 hour ago

The soaring, grimy chimneys of the coal-fired power station have belched the last of their choking fumes into Beijing's air, authorities say—but experts doubt the plan will ease the capital's smog.

Stopping the leaks

19 hours ago

When a big old cast-iron water main blows, it certainly makes for a spectacular media event.

Alpine lifelines on the brink

20 hours ago

Only one in ten Alpine rivers are healthy enough to maintain water supply and to cope with climate impacts according to a report by WWF. The publication is the first-ever comprehensive study on the condition ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.6 / 5 (8) Jan 24, 2013
How close to the point of no return will science take us before they admit a climate crisis WILL happen, not just might happen. Science must be clear about the worst possible crisis imaginable; a climate crisis. You can't have a little climate crisis.
Science only agrees it is real, not a real crisis as none of the IPCC warnings say it "will" happen, only "might" happen and "could" happen and "probably" happen. Media and politicians only say climate change crisis WILL happen as science has never said it WILL happen, only might happen.
Find me one single IPCC warning without "could be" and "likely" and ………..maybe!
3.3 / 5 (7) Jan 24, 2013
Because in science, the only way you make a definitive claim such as you ask is if there is a 100% probability, in other other possible outcome. The number of variables connected to the climate system make this impossible.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2013

No, that is the wrong analogy. It's more like; Your house is on fire, but we don't know what the MAX temperature will be!