In the UK, at Least, Cold Weather does Not Dampen Climate Change Understanding

April 24, 2014

Source: Data from ‘Public perception of cold weather events as evidence for and against climate change’, Climatic Change; Graph by Carbon Brief.

A cold winter like the eastern US just experienced plays well on the Fox News narrative “there can’t be climate change”.
But polling in the recent past suggests that, in the UK at least, people’s perception of climate change is more nuanced.

Carbon Brief:

Many people in North America will today look out their windows and see snow – lots and lots of snow. The plunging temperatures have led some, like climate sceptic business tycoon Donald Trump and handful of Republican politicians, to question whether or not “global warming” is real.

Such showboating is nothing new. But is the public’s view of climate change swayed by what the weather is doing? New research looking at responses to an exceptionally cold winter in the UK suggests maybe not.

The new paper in the journal Climatic Change suggests that after a particularly cold snap, three times as many people – in the UK, at least – see the cold weather as pointing towards the reality of climate change, rather than a reason to doubt it.

People understand it gets cold sometimes

A number of studies have suggested there’s a link between peoples’ belief in climate change and their own experiences of local temperatures.

The theory goes that when working out whether or not climate change is a real phenomenon, people tend to trust “the evidence of their own eyes” above scientific research.

Researchers at Cardiff University set out to investigate whether this was the case for extreme cold weather events in the UK.

They asked a nationally representative sample of 500 people for their views on climate change. One question asked whether participants thought the exceptionally cold winter of 2010 – the second coldest in 350 years – “suggests climate change may not be happening”.

The results showed only a small percentage of people agreed with the idea that extreme cold weather meant climate change wasn’t happening. Just 14 per cent agreed compared with 49 per cent who disagreed.

Another question asked people whether they thought the especially cold winter in 2010 actually “suggests climate change might now be a reality”. 38.5 per cent agreed with that idea – quite a bit more than the 21.8 per cent who disagreed.

The 38.5 per cent figure is perhaps surprising as scientists are still looking into whether climate change is influencing the chances of prolonged spells of extremely cold weather in the UK and the US. While some evidence suggests there’s a link, it’s debated. (Climate change’s link to other types of extreme event, such as heat waves and heavy rainfall, is much better understood).

The Cardiff researchers say their findings suggest people have a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between climate change and weather than is sometimes assumed.

Instead of thinking simply in terms of temperatures rising as the planet warms, the authors suggest respondents’ understanding of extreme weather is that it can be a consequence of humans disrupting the climate system.

The reason for this could be a change in the language used to describe the impact greenhouse gases are having, the authors suggest. They say:

“Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive that cold weather would be integrated in peoples’ perceptions of climate change in this manner, this may be indicative of a general shift in the use of terminology (in the UK at least) from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ “.

The researchers are careful to acknowledge that the survey is UK-specific, so the interpretations may not apply elsewhere. They say the term ‘global warming’ is used more frequently to describe climate change in the US than in the UK, so could explain why the US media and public are perhaps quicker to question climate science during a cold snap than their UK counterparts.


30 Responses to “In the UK, at Least, Cold Weather does Not Dampen Climate Change Understanding”

  1. Martin Lack Says:

    What will they say when asked about the 1 in 100 year flooding returning after 1 year?

    Surely even the most ideologically-blinded of pseudo-sceptics can spot the pattern in that data?

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Only ~20% “strongly disagree” and ~30% “TEND to disagree”? Hardly reason for rejoicing—-apparently, it’s going to have to get worse before it gets better.

    I wish no ill on anyone, but the 100 year floods returning every year, and the CA drought continuing, and a massive El Nino that causes widespread warming and disruption may be the “pattern” that we need to see in order to really shift these numbers.

  3. omnologos Says:

    I’d be in the 19.6% – it’s antiscientific to look for or against climate change in a single season in a small part of the planet.

    The 38.5% is very worrying…those are the people who know zero about science and maths, like our friend here who doesn’t understand that 1-in-a-century flooding does not, has never and never will mean it can’t appear twice in a row.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Leave it to Omno to get carried away over the results of a mere POLL of attitudes, beliefs, and opinions.

      He says the 38.5% is “very worrying” because they agreed with the idea that the extremely cold weather SUGGESTS climate change MAY now be a reality?

      Hurry, Omno! Grab Chicken Little and run to tell the king that you are “very worried” about nothing much.

      And I love the hyperbole displayed by “does not, has never and never will mean it can’t appear twice in a row”. Omno has apparently been studying his Probability for Dummies book, and wants to show off what he thinks he has learned for us.

      I suggest that he instead read his English Language for Dummies book so that he can grasp Martin’s meaning. He obviously missed the point.

    • Martin Lack Says:

      You may well dismiss the significance of the highly improbable recurrence of a 1 in 100 year after 12 months. However, I seem to recall that, when faced with an 80% reduction of Arctic sea ice over 30 years, you preferred to focus on a statistically insignificant recovery over a 12 month period…? There are many words I could use for this but none of them is very polite.

      • omnologos Says:

        Recall? Quote and link please

        • Martin Lack Says:

          Who do you think I am, Arnold Schwarzenegger? Your’re the one who claims to me omni-whatever, not me.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            I recalled Omno saying the same thing, and attempted to find the “quote and link”. After a couple of minutes of immersion in the Om-nonsense he has posted on Crock, I became dizzy and fell off my chair yet again. Not to worry—-no harm done—-I have learned to scatter some throw pillows about when I spend extended periods of time in Om-nonsense-land, and they break the fall.

            Re: some polite words you could use to describe Omno’s comments? Incoherent? Inconsistently incoherent? Incessantly Inconsistently Incoherent? He could then be “Triple-I Omno”?

          • omnologos Says:

            feel free you two to keep attributing to me ideas completely fabricated in the sick and unquotable imagination of yours

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Poor Omno. Listen to him whine about how we’re picking on him. I for one will stop doing so once he stops asking for it, and I can only believe that he IS asking for it with his comments on Crock.

            And “completely fabricated in the sick and unquotable imagination” is another one to be added to the little red book of The Sayings of Chairman Omno.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Yet again, Maurizio, you seem to forget I share many of your conservative and/or libertarian prejudices. However, I do not allow those prejudices to dictate which science I accept and which science I reject.

            The only reason you probably do not reject cosmological assertions about multiverses, 22 dimensions of space-time, and/or dark matter is, IMHO, that accepting them does not challenge the sanity, logic and rationality of continuing to ignore the consequences of post-Industrial population growth and economic activity. Yes, the Carbon Era has has enabled a sevenfold increase in the global human population (and a tenfold(?) increase in the numbers of methane-producing livestock).

            Therefore, to continue to ignore the dramatic impacts modernity has had – and is having – on the essential ecosystem services on which all life depends is a gross act of willful blindness. Real scepticism is the basis of modern science. However, rejecting the evidence for primary human causation of climate change is equivalent to Catholic rejection of a heliocentric solar system 400 years ago.

            Given all of the above, continued disputation of climate science is not like scepticism regarding theoretical assertions at the limits of human understanding, it is an ideologically-motivated refusal to accept the implications of everything we know as a result of 200 years of studying atmospheric physics (and/or invoke conspiracy theory to reject the reality, reliability, or reasonableness of the scientific consensus).
            Exhibit A: James Delingpole.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Well said, Martin, and I predict that it will go so far over Omno’s head that it will leave a contrail.

          • omnologos Says:

            sadly Martin has no idea on my opinions on climate change, has never been able to understand much of what I write, and just about this comment section is the most wrong place to dwell into those details.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Incoherence personified.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Thanks. Sadly, I think it more likely he will assume my comments are an attempt to construct a false identity (i.e. invoke a more complicated explanation for something because the simplest explanation is unpalatable – a.k.a. ‘conspiracy theory’).

          • omnologos Says:

            Martin – I do hope you do not subscribe to the “conspiracy of one” silly meme. Anyway, we have been through this before and really, really, you do not know what I am writing about. So just leave it, will you?

            Come on, you still ask me about “rejecting the evidence for primary human causation of climate change“. This despite my 7-yr-old About page, and countless comments on these pages too.

            You do not get it, face this simple truth, have some peace.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            The reason I still ask you the question is because you still do’t have a legitimate reason to dispute the consensus. Do you get that?

            I agree that a conspiracy must involve more than one person. However, any single person can be a conspiracy theorist (simply by invoking complicated explanations not supported by the vast majority of evidence).

            I think you should change your name to Obfuscatilogos.

          • omnologos Says:

            You don’t understand what I think about climate change. Worse, you don’t know anything about my opinion on climate change. Worse, when I tried to explain you inevitably went back to ask the same old stale inane questions as if I had never tried to explain anything at all.

            Worse, you show no understanding of what the consensus is. You could write a million blog posts about me vs the consensus and those would be the biggest collection of misunderstandings in the histories of me and of the consensus.

            Worse, this thread is about a UK poll and I am not your average responder to UK polls.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, Obfuscatilogos is a more appropriate tag for our boy than his narcissistic and meaningless self-tag.

            Hey Obfooz, just to clue you in, this is true of ALL of us who visit Crock. We most certainly DON’T know “what you think about climate change” or “anything about your opinion on climate change”.

            Why? Because you DON’T “try to explain” and you inevitably go back to the same old stale (and) inane obfuscations as if we had never asked you to explain anything at all.

            Worse, YOU show no understanding of what the consensus is on Crock or any other site where reasoning and logic are valued above simply seeking attention by mindlessly running your mouth. We could write a million blog posts about you vs the consensus and they would be a huge collection of anecdotal evidence for how much you need to speak with a mental health professional.

            “I am not your average responder to UK polls”. LOL to that. (Talk about saying something that is self-evident).

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Worse still, your comment history on this site has two possible explanations: (1) you just like arguing for its own sake; or (2) you have convinced yourself that the IPCC does not represent the consensus view of relevant experts.

            Worst of all, I suspect the latter to be the case, in which case you are in denial about being in denial.

            Either way, I would be a fool to waste more time on you than I do, so do not expect me to visit your blog anytime soon.

            Disputing the validity of IPCC reports requires the vast majority of experts to be mistaken, muppets, or mendacious – a highly improbable supposition. You, on the other hand, are almost certainly between 33 and 100 percent of the above.

          • omnologos Says:

            This is a very good example. Claiming that I dispute the validity of the ipcc reports is as idiotic as it gets. I have argued in the past that I expect all words to withstand time, just as we can see there is no much embarrassment about the FAR or SAR, written all those years ago.

            However this is too high a concept for you and you will be claiming once again in some part of the future that I’d dispute the validity of the ipcc reports.

            Anyway…this post wasn’t about me, I did not participate to the poll, I am not a UK voter, I would have answered in the 19.6%, that is squarely inside the consensus, and I know for a fact that as soon as I will try to explain my opinion on climate change, dumbo will jump in claiming I only want to talk about myself because I am a troll.

            I do not want to talk about myself in these pages. Full stop. Now please stupidise with your friend somewhere else, and if you ever claim I have said this or that, do come up with a quote and a link and not your silly fantasies of a misunderstood memory.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            “I am not a UK voter”? Does that mean Obfooz is NOT a UK citizen? Is he an illegal alien? An “immigrato o illegale” wetback who swam the channel? (or more likely was smuggled in under a load of sardines in a fishing boat)?

            Quick, call the authorities and have him deported back to Italy!

            Then we will perhaps be free of his always talking about himself on Crock because he is a self-absorbed and mindless narcissistic troll. At least for a while.

            PS Is “stupidise” a word? If so, whatever does it mean?

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Thanks for clearing that up, Obfusci. Now you can go back to dismissing 97% of what is posted on this blog as anti-libertarian advocacy for authoritarian action by governments (i.e. what IPCC AR5 suggests is now necessary if we want to avoid climate change having “severe, pervasive and irreversible” effects).

    • redskylite Says:

      “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.”

      Auric Goldfinger – 1959

  4. joffan7 Says:

    I’m surprised that enough people understood the question to answer sensibly. It’s (nearly) one of those double negatives where you have to respond oppositely to get it right. It’s the kind of question that should be banned from examinations because it is showing the examiner’s deviousness rather than testing the candidates’ knowledge and skills.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      True enough.

      Have you ever received a “survey” from the right wing dumb tanks like The Heritage Institute? The answers are all meant to indoctrinate you as you read them rather than elicit real opinions, and only one of several for each item is the correct answer for any rational human being—it is always worded so that you will sound like a cross between Karl Marx and Che Guevera if you pick those correct answers. All the others are variations on right wing talking points and propaganda, and the kicker is that Heritage wants to know what YOU think so that it can use the survey results to “educate our legislators and government agencies”.

      I take great pleasure in stuffing the postage paid return envelopes with a couple bucks weight of newsprint.

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