Climate Change Whiplash: 71% of Americans Now Link Extreme Weather to Global Warming

It appears that this summer’s record-breaking heatwave has lit a fire under our collective climate change views.

“Nearly three-quarters of Americans say global warming influences U.S. weather and made this year's record-hot summer worse,” Reuters reported this morning. In a new survey conducted by Yale and George Mason universities, results showed 74 percent of Americans believe that global warming is affecting weather, which is five percentage points higher than it was as recently as March 2012.

“Most Midwesterners—71 percent, up 21 points since March—said extreme weather caused more harm to crops over the past few decades.” But Reuters added that Yale's Anthony Leiserowitz, a principal investigator on the project, said “The survey was conducted from August 31 through September 12, with summer heat and drought fresh in respondents' minds,” and “he acknowledged that a cool autumn and snowy winter might have an impact on future responses.”

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Other surveys have in fact observed a bit of a see-sawing in American’s opinion on the subject of climate change. In a July report, Business Week said, “Following a winter of record snowfall in 2010, the public’s acceptance of climate change fell to a low of 52 percent, according to the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which was published by the Brookings Institution in Washington. After this year’s mild winter, support jumped to 65 percent, the same as that found by the UT Energy Poll in March.”

Scientific American has offered another explanation for our constant change of heart. “The level of public concern about this global issue is mostly influenced by the mobilization efforts of political leaders and advocacy groups, new research shows. ‘Public opinion regarding climate change is likely to remain divided as long as the political elites send out conflicting messages on this issue,’ lead researcher Robert Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said in a statement.”

Over in Europe, The Guardian reported last fall that, “Europeans believe that dangers of climate change represent a more serious problem than the current financial turmoil, according to a new poll. The Eurobarometer poll suggests that the majority of the public in the European Union consider global warming to be one of the world's most serious problems, with one-fifth saying it is the single most serious problem. Overall, respondents said climate change was the second most serious issue facing the world, after poverty.”

Reuters quotes Leiserowitz as saying, “We do know that some people will change their views on an issue, on climate change, depending on whether they've just experienced a hot day or a cold day—but I want to underscore that it's just some people . . . Given record-breaking weather over the last two years, some respondents have started ‘connecting the dots’ between extreme events and global warming.”

It looks like Europeans may be connecting those dots faster than Americans.

Which of these factors do you think most influences people’s opinions on climate change? Or do you think there are other reasons for our shifting views?

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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |