Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Climate change in the back of our minds

Maybe Obama doesn't talk about climate change anymore (see yesterday's post), but obviously American citizens have it in mind. The New York Times reports that "In Polls, many link extremes to climate change":
A poll due for release on Wednesday shows that a large majority of Americans believe that this year’s unusually warm winter, last year’s blistering summer and some other weather disasters were probably made worse by global warming (...)  Read together, the polls suggest that direct experience of erratic weather may be convincing some people that the problem is no longer just a vague and distant threat.


According to the NYT, "science is hesitant to link some of the recent weather extremes to global warming - but the public, it seems, is already there". Later in the article, concerning the public interpretation of the Mississippi floods etc, the NYT attests the public to be in accordance with science in relating these events to global warming.  But despite the problem of scientific differentiations, of polls and of political rhetoric, the article comes to another conclusion:
“My sense from around the country and the world is that people definitely understand that things are getting freaky,” said William E. McKibben, the founder of 350.org. “During that crazy heat wave in March, everyone in Chicago was out enjoying the weather, but in the back of their mind they were thinking, this is not right.” 
In my understanding, this quote in context with the poll sheds light on climate change as a cultural reality: climate is no longer hidden in a "black box", and it won't be possible to push it back inside anymore. Climate change is already part of our weather experiences, independently of the rhetorics and differentiations of politicians or scientists.


13 comments:

Harry Dale Huffman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The latest Gallup poll shows that the number of Americans who worry a great deal about global warming is down from 40% in 2000 to 30% in 2012.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/153875/Worry-Water-Air-Pollution-Historical-Lows.aspx

Werner Krauss said...

@anonymous #2

well, a poll is just a poll is just a poll...
Here a quote from the poll presented in the above post:

"Global warming and extreme weather events.

A large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high profile extreme
weather events worse, including the unusually warm winter of December 2011 and January 2012
(72%), record high summer temperatures in the U.S. in 2011 (70%), the drought in Texas and
Oklahoma in 2011 (69%), record snowfall in the U.S. in 2010 and 2011 (61%), the Mississippi River
floods in the spring of 2011 (63%), and Hurricane Irene (59%)."

stan said...

I am shocked, shocked to find reading and listening going on in this establishment. The talking heads scream that the extreme weather is caused by global warming. Then the public says what they just heard or read.

Amazing.

Of course, they have absolutely no interest in spending any money to do anything about it, but they'll repeat whatever the news tells them is a fact.

Werner Krauss said...

stan,

what a great example of unfiltered misanthropy! I just cannot figure out what category of misanthropy your contribution might fit in best. Make your own choice here in this fine wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misanthropy

Anonymous said...

So you dismiss one poll (from a major polling organisation) and quote more from yours (from a 'center for climate change communication').
In fact the quote is wrong.
The 'believe' number comes from adding those who answered 'strongly agree' and 'somewhat agree'. Is 'somewhat agree' the same as 'believe'? I think not.

anon #2

Reiner Grundmann said...

As Roger Pielke Jr. points out on his blog, there are two factors to consider: the age-old tendency of humans to overestimate their influence on weather/climate; and the deliberate confusion by some climate activists of weather and climate. He quotes the formula of specific weather patterns as being "consistent with" the theory of AGW.

To this I would add another formula which seems on the rise:

"Events like this will be more common in coming years due to climate change".

It is uttered by many scientists who are interviewed by the mass media on unusual or extreme weather events.

hvw said...

Reiner Grundmann,

"He quotes the formula of specific weather patterns as being 'consistent with' the theory of AGW."

As Pielke clearly explains, this formula is a truism and conveys no information about weather or climate. It is exclusively used as a rhetorical device.

A statement such as
"Events like this will be more common in coming years due to climate change."
can be right, can be wrong, and we will know for sure after we have waited long enough. The corresponding question is the central question of climate science and obviously holds some interest for society at large. A lot of smart people are working hard to make reliable statements like that one (or its negation).

Jr. gets the concepts and writes nothing wrong,
but he spins it a certain way, strong!

Others don't get the concept but read the spin,
let the Chinese Whispers begin.

Off to Wikipedia to figure out my type of misanthropy.

Werner Krauss said...

Isn't it possible to think "the central question" from the other end; not from science, but from society. That is, thinking climate "from the back of our minds", as McKibben suggests:

"“During that crazy heat wave in March, everyone in Chicago was out enjoying the weather, but in the back of their mind they were thinking, this is not right.”

This is not about subtleties, this is about constant background noise. Climate change is here (in whatever form - as discourse, as fact, as conspiracy, as whatever) and doesn't go away anymore, despite any corrections from experts ("dear citizens of Chicago, this March heatwave is just a weather event which does not allow to etc etc" - this correction doesn't help much against the feeling).

Now you might say that "feelings" shouldn't lead our politics, and you say rightly so. On the other hand, we should closely observe, listen and find out what climate, the new active member of our daily parliaments, actually is, and does, and means. Seeing it from this perspective, science and the experts are just some of those who co-construct the environment, together with citizens who celebrate (and adapt to) March heat, with urban planners who try to anticipate the consequences, with biologists who observe plant life and politicians who think about responsibilities concerning climate as a common ground with common responsibilities and so on.

Seeing climate change this way, there is much more room for maneuvering climate change as a politico-atmospheric phenomenon; it is something dealt with (instead of something that is decided about by experts).

hvw said...

Werner,

yes, I am with you here. Coming from this hypothesis (which Pielke convinced me to have some merit):

Climate science has its important contributions for the debate settled for quite some time now. It is very unlikely that global scale predictions or associated uncertainty will change in a way that makes it necessary to reconsider policy options for mitigation. (Adaptation and smaller scale is a different issue). Concerning the What, How and When of mitigation measures, the action is exactly where you just put it: In the colorful dynamics of societies.

In this framework though, it is totally besides the point to comment this poll with "duh, the public confused weather and climate again". For example the poll gives hope that the public is able to become more aware of its vulnerability to weather & climate. That it can re-evaluate its perception of the risk of extreme hazards (which is commonly very much underestimated). And what events make these attitude changes happen. So the result is one I like, and it feels almost surreal that Pielke, of all people, then accuses me of an "ends justify the means" attitude.

Anonymous said...

'In my understanding, this quote in context with the poll sheds light on climate change as a cultural reality: climate is no longer hidden in a "black box", and it won't be possible to push it back inside anymore. Climate change is already part of our weather experiences, independently of the rhetorics and differentiations of politicians or scientists.'

I would agree, but I wonder if climate is in the back of our minds like for instance soccer may be, just as a global spectacle.

Werner Krauss said...

hvw,

thanks for elaborating on this; I totally agree.

I don't get the point of your quarrels with Roger Pielke jr. - I miss the context here. I just can imagine that he argues in respect to scientists (who shouldn't confuse weather event and climate, of course), and you argue in respect to public perception of weather events - which is something completely different. Scientists argue in terms of right or wrong, which are no categories when it comes to public perception of change. When people feel uncomfortable in the back of their mind during Chicago heat waves in March, we should acknowledge this as an interesting (and alarming) sign. I guess that's what you say, right.

Climate discourse was kind of paralyzed through this kind of know-it-all attitude of climate science; in insisting on scientific scrutiny, the changing perception of (changing) weather events was totally neglected as a source of knowledge and a source of concern.

This will change in future, as climate policies are already part of our politics; in certain respects, the decisions are already made by the people and politicians (based on science, but not lead by science). "We" and "climate" are no longer separable; climate is culture (and science being an important tool of culture, of course - and not the other way round). Now there are only good and bad climate policies.

Werner Krauss said...

@anonymous #11

Well, this is a strange assumption. I think climate is a totally different category; it's about our existence at large, while soccer is only about life & death -:) Without joking: nobody would ever put these categories into the same box!