In a previous blog post about The Art of Climate Change Communication, I covered the six American publics and how they perceive climate change. The Dismissive is one of the smallest groups, making up a mere eight percent of the American public. They do not believe climate change is happening, nor do they believe it is human caused or a serious problem. Although small, they are very vocal. Sometimes it’s easy for climate change communicators to be discouraged by this group. Nonetheless, now there is evidence that more than half of Americans (58%) say, “climate change is affecting weather in the United States.”
The Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind report is based on findings from a nationally representative survey – Climate Change in the American Mind – conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. These two organizations interviewed 1,045 adults between April 8 and 15, and found that “many Americans believe climate change made recent extreme weather and climatic events ‘more severe,’ specifically: 2012 as the warmest year on record in the United States (50%); the ongoing drought in the Midwest and the Great Plains (49%); Superstorm Sandy (46%); and Superstorm Nemo (42%).” The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.
Typically, climate scientists avoid making a connection between climate change and the day-to-day weather. Their stance used to be that no single weather event is caused by climate change. In recent years, however, climate science has advanced to the point where researchers can see climate change’s impact on individual heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and other storms. At the very least, many are ready to admit that climate change makes extraordinary weather worse. And most of the American public agrees.
The report released this week also highlighted that, “overall, 85 percent of Americans report that they experienced one or more types of extreme weather in the past year, most often citing extreme high winds (60%) and extreme heat (51%).” It is part of The Psychology of Climate Change that humans need to tangibly experience phenomena in order to connect with it on a deeper level. We comprehend climate change is a serious threat more easily when we see the effects of extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy.
While it is vindicating to climate change communicators that our country is beginning to make the important connection between climate change and extreme weather, I am hoping the knowledge coalesces into further climate change realizations and ultimately stimulates a grass-roots movement that engenders meaningful change. Knowing there is a problem is an important first step. Doing something about the problem is an even more important next step.