As Election Year Unfolds, Climate Concern Rises
March 17, 2016
Americans are taking global warming more seriously than at any time in the past eight years, according to several measures in Gallup’s annual environment poll. Most emblematic is the rise in their stated concern about the issue. Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming, up from 55% at this time last year and the highest reading since 2008.
A confluence of factors — the economic downturn, the Climategate controversy and some well-publicized pushback against global warming science — may have dampened public concern about global warming from about 2009 to 2015. However, Americans are now expressing record- or near-record-high belief that global warming is happening, as well as concern about the issue. Several years of unseasonably warm weather — including the 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2015-2016 winters — has potentially contributed to this shift in attitudes. If that’s true, continuation of such weather patterns would likely do more than anything politicians and even climate-change scientists can to further raise public concern.
And look at this graph, showing changes in just the last year, particularly among independents.
This is significant in an election year, and an indicator that recent strings of severe and extreme climate related weather events are making an impression on the public mind.
February’s stunning, shocking new temperature reading is just starting to make its way into the major media.
Global temperatures smashed records for the 10th straight month in February, which was a whopping 2.18 degrees above average, according to data released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The spike is “unprecedented,” said Penn State meteorologist Michael Mann. Records are typically broken by hundredths or tenths of degrees. No month has ever registered a mark that high above normal.
Mann attributed the record to a mix of global warming (roughly 50%), climate pattern El Niño (25%) and month-to-month temperature fluctuations (25%). The fingerprint of human-caused climate change isn’t just evident, it’s dominant, Mann said
An increase of a couple degrees won’t feel like a lot for the average person walking outdoors, but it makes a dramatic difference in the natural world that surrounds us. Higher temperatures confuse plants and insects—leading to early springs and disruptions in ecosystems. Ice also melts at higher rates, driving rising in sea levels and eliminating habitats. And of course that 1.2°C (2.2°F) average temperature increase in February masks far more extreme variations. “Sometimes it’s hard for humans to pick up on it,” says Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central. “You’ll start to see nature responding to this more and more.”
The study comes as new research from the National Academy of Sciences shows that climate change contributes to extreme weather events like drought and flooding. And, while the exact links remain unclear, extremely hot months like February raise the risk that the world will be caught off guard by extreme and unexpected events.
The entire globe was hot in February, but some places were hotter than others. February ranked as the seventh warmest on record in the United States, but that didn’t stop the country from experiencing the warmest winter on record as a whole. The average U.S. winter temperature was 2.7°C (36.8°F)—that’s 2.6°C (4.6°F) above average, well past the 2°C limit. In parts of Africa, the warmest February since 1910 contributed to ongoing drought that has left millions food insecure. And some areas in the Arctic experienced temperatures up to 16°C (29°F) above average leading to dangerously low levels of sea ice.
And while the year has only just begun, climate scientists have already predicted that 2016 will trump last year as the warmest on record. The warmest months of El Niño tend to fall in the spring following the pattern’s high period and the coming months would need to be abnormally cool to make up for the hot winter. They almost certainly won’t be.
“There’s a good chance that 2016 will be even warmer that 2015,” says Mann. “We would have to see a pretty rapid cool down not to beat the 2015 record.”