Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Climate change acceptance nosedives with the economy

John Timmer in Ars Technica: A few years back, the US public's acceptance of conclusions reached by climate scientists took a dramatic drop. It's only now beginning to recover. Not a lot has changed about the science during that time, raising questions about what's driving the ups and downs in the polls. Studies have found correlations with the weather and a role for political leaders in driving these changes, but a new study suggests some of that is misplaced. Instead, its authors come to a conclusion we've heard before: it's the economy, stupid.

The authors use polling data from a variety of sources, which creates a bit of a challenge. Not all polls ask questions that address the same things. For example, one of the studies we linked above asked about the public's acceptance of a basic fact: has our planet been getting warmer over the past few decades? In contrast, one of the polls used here assessed feelings about climate change by asking its participants whether they felt the media "exaggerate the seriousness of global warming."

Still, there are ways to convert these specific sentiments into a generalized sense about the seriousness of climate change. Plus, the variety of polls provide some distinct advantages. For example, this survey provides a valuable outgroup to the US population, in that a number of surveys cover all the nations of the European Union. In addition, several of the polls (those performed by the Pew) include ZIP code information, allowing the authors to compare polling trends with record high and low temperatures in the nearby area...

As with another recent survey, they do end up seeing a correlation between acceptance of climate change and the weather. However, the correlation with local weather is rather weak. Instead, the authors found a stronger correlation with the global mean temperature. That's somewhat surprising. Most years, the global mean isn't especially well covered by the press, which suggests this correlation might be a bit spurious. (If we accept the economy is an influence, then the correlation will be very difficult to tease apart. Especially considering the coldest global temperature of the last decade happened to correspond to the onset of job losses in the US.)...

From the Bundesarchiv, a 1931 gathering of unemployed workers in the UK

No comments: