University of Michigan Gateway Ford School

Seasons Gone By: An Examination of Individual Perceptions of Past Weather and Their Views on Global Warming

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June 2015

Christopher Borick, Erick Lachapelle, and Barry G. Rabe

Abstract

A growing body of literature has demonstrated a relationship between an individual’s personal experience with weather and their views on the existence of global warming. In particular recent studies have shown that temperature and precipitation departures from average in an individual’s area of residence have an effect on the likelihood that the individual will indicate that there is evidence of global warming (Egan and Mullin 2012; Borick and Rabe 2014). While the relationship between weather and views on the existence of climate change appears fairly robust, it remains unclear if this relationship is the product of an individual’s subjective perception of recent weather conditions or if external climatic conditions affect views on global warming in the absence of an individual’s awareness of weather anomalies. Even less has been written on the determinants of subjective perceptions of seasonal variation themselves. In this study we examine the ability of individuals to accurately assess recent weather conditions in relation to historical norms, and validate the veracity of such assessments, with reference to instrumental temperature data. We then examine the relationship between individual assessments of local weather and perceptions of evidence of global warming. We find that subjective perceptions of seasonal temperatures are influenced not only by external climatic conditions but also, and more importantly, by attitudes toward the existence of global warming. The empirical bases of this study draws from surveys conducted in the United States and Canada during the fall of 2014 as part of the National Surveys on Energy and the Environment (NSEE).

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Keywords: Environment, Public Opinion

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