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date: 28 June 2017

Personal Experience, Extreme Weather Events, and Perceptions of Climate Change

Summary and Keywords

The factors that determine individual perceptions of climate change have been a focus of social science research for many years. An array of studies have found that individual-level characteristics, such as partisan affiliation, ideological beliefs, educational attainment, and race, affect one’s views on the existence of global warming, as well as the levels of concern regarding this matter. But in addition to the individual-level attributes that have been shown to affect perceptions of climate change, a growing body of literature has found that individual experiences with weather can shape a variety of views and beliefs that individuals maintain regarding climate change. These studies indicate that direct experiences with extreme weather events and abnormal seasonal temperature and precipitation levels can affect the likelihood that an individual will perceive global warming to be occurring, and in some cases their policy preferences for addressing the problem. The emerging literature on this relationship indicates that individuals are more likely to express skepticism regarding the existence of global warming when experiencing below average temperatures or above average snowfall in the period preceding an interview on their views. Conversely, higher temperatures and various extreme weather events can elevate acceptance of global warming’s existence.

A number of studies also find that individuals are more likely to report weather conditions such as drought and extreme heat affected their acceptance of global warming when such conditions were occurring in their region. For example, the severe drought that has encompassed much of the western United States between 2005 and 2016 has increasingly been cited by residents of the region as the primary reason for their belief that climate change is occurring. What remains unclear at this point is whether the weather conditions are actually changing opinions regarding climate change or if the preexisting opinions are causing individuals to see the weather events in a manner consistent with those opinions.

Notably, the relationship between weather experiences and beliefs regarding climate change appear to be multidirectional in nature. Numerous studies have found that not only do weather experiences shape the views of individuals regarding global warming, but also individuals’ views on the existence of global warming can affect their perceptions of the weather that they have experienced. In particular, recent research has shown that individuals who are skeptical about the existence of global warming are less likely to report the weather recorded in their area accurately than individuals who believe global warming is happening.

Keywords: climate change, global warming, weather, public opinion, motivated reasoning

Public Opinion and Global Warming

While the scientific community has been deeply engaged in the study of climate change and its causes and effects for the last three decades, the study of public opinion regarding this matter was much slower to develop. Only a few studies sought to measure public perceptions of climate change during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with this early scholarship (Bostrom, Morgan, Fischhoff, & Read, 1994; Read, Bostrom, Morgan, Fischhoff, & Smuts, 1994) largely focusing on public awareness of the concept of global warming and measurement of concern regarding the phenomenon. These studies identified only modest levels of public awareness about climate change throughout the United States and Europe.

But as media attention and governmental actions to address climate change accelerated in the mid- to late-1990s, there was a corresponding growth in the breadth and range of efforts to measure public perceptions of both the underlying issue of a warming planet and policies to mitigate or adapt to the changes. Bord, Fisher, and O’Connor (1998) found a relationship between knowledge about the causes of global warming and individual concern, with O’Connor, Bord, and Fisher (1999) and Bord, O’Connor, and Fisher (2000) discovering that individual willingness to act to address global warming is strongly related to individual understanding of the issue.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, evidence of partisanship effects on public opinion about climate change began to be observed. The deep divides in Washington, D.C., regarding the ratification of the Kyoto Accords were accompanied by a partisan divide in American public opinion about the topic. Krosnick, Visser, and Holbrook (1998) and Krosnick, Holbrook, and Visser (2000) found evidence that in the United States, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to oppose ratification of the accords. McCright and Dunlap (2000, 2003) followed with studies that showed partisan divides in the receptiveness of Americans to claims regarding climate scientists and policies. While partisan divides regarding climate change science and policy are less stark outside the United States, there is solid evidence of partisan division on this matter in nations including Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom (Stokes, 2015).

As evidence of a partisan divide mounted during the early 2000s, other predictors of public acceptance of global warming were identified in public opinion research. Education and exposure to various sources of information were shown to affect individual beliefs regarding the existence of climate change and the risks posed by increasing temperatures on the planet. For example, O’Connor, Bord, Yarnal, and Wiefek (2002) found that higher levels of educational attainment and more detailed knowledge about global warming are positively related to individual acceptance of the existence of global warming and concern regarding the matter. Further studies in this time period found interactions between ideological leanings or partisan affiliations with educational levels. Better-educated Democrats and liberals were more likely than their less-educated counterparts to believe in climate change. On the other hand, among Republicans and conservatives, the better educated were more dismissive or doubtful than their less-educated counterparts (Krosnick, Holbrook, Lowe, & Visser, 2006; Malka, Krosnick, & Langer, 2009; Hamilton, 2011). These varied interactions between educational attainment and ideology as they relate to views on global warming have significant implications for efforts to build support for climate action, as higher levels of knowledge about the subject may not necessarily translate into increased saliency and support for action.

The arrival of the worldwide economic downturn in 2008 brought more attention to the effects of economic conditions on public attitudes and beliefs regarding climate change. While numerous studies have shown a limited relationship between individuals’ economic standing and their views on climate change (Kvaloy, Finseraas, & Listhaug, 2012; Shum, 2012), seemingly contradictory results have found that higher levels of wealth are related to lower levels of concern at both the individual and national levels (Sandvik, 2008; Tjernström & Tietenberg, 2008), and that individuals in wealthier nations are more likely to accept the existence of climate change (Brulle, Carmichael, & Jenkins, 2012).

Unlike the inconclusive findings regarding the relationship between income and public opinion regarding climate change, macroeconomic conditions have been shown to be more tightly connected to views on the matter. Kahn and Kotchen (2011), Scruggs and Benegal (2012), and Brulle, Carmichael, and Jenkins (2012) find that higher levels of unemployment are associated with lower levels of acceptance of climate change. (Also see section “Economic Conditions and Public Opinion on Climate Change”)

In addition to the demographic and political factors discussed here, there is some evidence that factors such as media framing, the “Climategate” incident, and the related attack on the credibility of climate scientists have affected American public opinion on global warming. For example, Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Smith, and Dawson (2013) found that the 2009 e-mail hacking incident produced a modest decline in public belief that global warming is taking place. (Also see section “News Coverage of ‘Climategate’ and Other Debates over Scientific Conduct.”) McCright and Dunlap (2011) likewise found that increased efforts by interest groups to denounce climate science may have contributed to decreased acceptance of global warming among Americans. (Also see section “Communication Strategies of the Climate Change Denial Movement.”)

The Weather and Climate Beliefs

While the rich literature described earlier in this article has examined the socioeconomic and political determinants of attitudes and beliefs regarding climate change, more recent scholarship has begun to explore the impact of weather on public opinions about climate change. Past research has shown that weather that is experienced can affect an array of human behaviors and attitudes, including voter turnout (Fraga & Hersh, 2010; Gomez, Hansford, & Krause, 2007), the likelihood of civil unrest (Hsiang, Meng, & Cane, 2011), and public approval of government officials (Malhotra, 2008). Thus, it is not surprising that scholars would be interested in assessing the role that weather plays in shaping public perceptions of global warming.

Among the first types of study that sought to link weather and climate change beliefs examined individual views on the weather that they experience and various measures of their opinions on the existence of global warming. Krosnick et al. (2006) found respondents who perceive their local temperature to have increased in recent years were more likely to indicate a belief that global warming will happen in the future if nothing is done to address it. Similarly, Li et al. (2011), in a study of Australians and Americans, found that respondents who believed that the day of their interview was warmer than usual were more likely to believe in and have greater concern about global warming than their counterparts who reported that the day they were interviewed was colder than usual. Li and Johnson also found that their study participants donated more money to a global warming charity when they thought that the day when they were questioned was warmer than usual.

Akerlof et al. (2012) conducted an in-depth study of residents of a single county in Michigan, and about a quarter of their respondents reported that they had personally experienced global warming. When asked about the types of changes that they experienced, respondents most commonly reported changes in seasons, varied weather, and changing lake levels and snowfall levels. The authors of the study also found that these personal experiences of global warming predict perceptions of local risk of global warming, even when controlling for demographic factors such as educational attainment, age, and party affiliation.

Borick and Rabe (2010) used national- and state-level surveys to show that American views on climate change are related to a combination of perceptions about meteorological events and physical changes on Earth. Their results show that a significant portion of Americans identify the weather that they experience (e.g., hotter temperatures in their area) as the primary reason for their belief that there is solid evidence of global warming; on the other hand, a large portion of those skeptical of the evidence of global warming identify weather conditions (e.g., above average snowfall) as the primary factor that has led them to their beliefs that global warming is not occurring. Similarly, Shao, Keim, Grand, and Hamilton (2014), using nearly a decade of public opinion data in the United States, found that summer temperature trends and other weather and climate measures have consistently affected public perceptions of global warming.

Finally, in a major study, Lee, Markowitz, Howe, Ko, and Leiserowitz (2015) found that in many nations, individual experiences with local weather play a key role in predicting the perception of the risks associated with climate change. In particular, the authors reported that perceptions of local temperature change, primarily in Asian and Latin American nations, are the strongest predictor of individual assessments of the risks posed by climate change.

Controlling for Objective Temperature Measures

While the studies in the previous discussion established a link between weather observations and beliefs regarding global warming, the research designs employed did not isolate the effects of recorded weather conditions on individual perceptions and beliefs. To control for the effects of temperature on beliefs regarding climate change, numerous scholars turned to laboratory experiments to more fully determine the impact that experienced temperature conditions can have on beliefs regarding global warming. Risen and Critcher (2011) found that feeling warm elevated study participants’ level of belief in global warming even when temperature was manipulated in an indoor setting and when participants’ beliefs about the current outdoor temperature was statistically controlled. Joireman, Truelove, and Duell (2010) also looked at laboratory experiments and found that outdoor temperatures on the day of an interview were positively correlated with beliefs that global warming is happening, as well as that individuals primed with heat-related cognitions are more likely to state that global warming is taking place.

As some scholars were turning to laboratory settings to determine the effects of experienced temperatures on views regarding global warming, others were utilizing geocoding as a way to bring together actual ambient temperatures with public perceptions of climate change. Brody, Zahran, Vedlitz, and Grover (2007) were among the first to introduce objective measures of experienced weather into the examination of the relationship between weather and beliefs regarding climate change. In their study, they test whether nearly six decades of shifting temperatures in a respondent’s area of residency affected that person’s perception of the risks associated with global warming. They found that while vulnerability to factors such as floods and sea level rise had an effect on risk perceptions, long-term temperature did not. The use of geocoded weather data was also central to the conclusions drawn by Akerlof et al. (2012), as noted in the previous section. As with the Brody et al. (2007) study, the Akerlof research used climatic data [in this case, from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)] to find that most of the reported effects of global warming that individuals said they experienced were borne out in the climatic record from NOAA.

Egan and Mullin (2012) built on the weather-climate change opinion nexus by providing evidence that temperature patterns have a significant effect on Americans’ beliefs about the evidence for global warming. They reported that for every 3.1°F that local temperatures were above normal in the week before an interview, a respondent becomes 1 percentage point more likely to agree that there is “solid evidence” that the Earth is getting warmer. This study found that the weather effects on views about the existence of global warming are comparable with other demographic factors, such as education or age, but the impacts are short-term in nature, without the longer-term effects that are associated with individual-level characteristics such as educational attainment or partisan affiliation. The effects of weather varied across groups, with the effects most pronounced among the least educated and those who only leaned Republican or Democratic, rather than among those with higher educational attainment or who maintained strong partisan affiliation. Such findings suggest that perceptions of weather may be moderated by factors related to cognition and political engagement.

Hamilton and Stampone (2013) added more evidence that objective measures of temperature are related to views on the existence of climate change. Using over 5,000 statewide telephone surveys in New Hampshire, they found that temperature anomalies between 2010 and 2012 were related to beliefs regarding climate change. When temperatures were higher than average on the day of the interview and the day before, respondents were statistically more likely to indicate that climate change is happening, even when controlling for a series of socioeconomic characteristics. Notably, Hamilton and Stampone found that these temperature effects are concentrated among those unaffiliated with a political party, with this group more likely to agree with the scientific consensus about climate change when interviewed on days with above average temperatures.

Deryiunga (2013) determined that temperature anomalies that last from one month up to a year are strong predictors of beliefs about the occurrence of global warming. Using multiyear survey data in the United States, this study found that abnormally high or low seasonal temperature fluctuations are related to the likelihood of acceptance of global warming. Notably, Deryugina reported that the short-term temperature effects (i.e., from a day up to two weeks) found by other scholars such as Egan and Mullin (2012) did not have an effect on beliefs regarding global warming. Deryugina’s findings may reflect the failure of some earlier studies to include longer-term weather measures in their modeling.

While most of the studies discussed in this section have found statistically significant relationships between recorded temperature anomalies and views on global warming, only limited attention was paid to explaining why this connection may happen. Zaval et al. (2014) added to the literature on the effects of weather on views regarding climate change with their focus on explaining why this relationship between temperatures and beliefs exists. Through tests utilizing multiple frames, they find evidence of attribute substitution, whereby individuals use less valuable but available information (in the form of experienced temperatures) in place of more diagnostic but less accessible information (in the form of longer-term evidence of global warming) during their decision-making process.

McCright, Dunlap, and Xiao (2014) added to the evidence about the underlying reasons why experienced temperatures regularly affect perceptions of global warming and what limits such relationships may have on support for actions to address global warming. In a study based in the United States (U.S.), the authors examined the degree that state-level winter temperatures affect perceptions of global warming. The results show that temperature anomalies affect perceptions of local warming, but that such warming may not be attributed to the effects of broader, global-level change.

Instead, acceptance of global warming is influenced to a greater degree by factors such as political orientation and perceptions of scientific agreement about the occurrence and causes of global warming. In a related study of residents of the United Kingdom (U.K.), Capstick and Pidgeon (2014) found that the way in which people interpret experienced cold weather is related to preexisting skepticism about global warming, which is in turn related to more general worldviews.

One intriguing, yet somewhat controversial, study that linked experienced weather with the saliency of climate change is Egan and Mullin (2016). Using weather data from 1974 to 2013 and comparing those measures with what Americans prefer in terms of weather, the authors conclude that 80% of Americans live in counties that have more pleasant weather than four decades ago. In particular, the milder winters that are typically preferred by Americans are becoming more common, while not yet being offset by more uncomfortable summers. While the warmer-than-normal weather may moderately enhance the likelihood of acceptance that global warming is occurring, the more pleasant weather experienced by most Americans makes the issue less of a priority for individuals than other issues. Thus, Egan and Mullin argued that weather patterns over recent decades have not served as a positive source of motivation for Americans to push for a policy response to climate change, and public concern may not rise until people’s experienced weather becomes less pleasant. In their study, Egan and Mullin (2016) used indirect measures of weather preferences that rely on migration patterns rather than reported preferences; therefore, further research will be valuable in confirming their findings.

The Effects of Extreme Weather, Natural Disasters, and Snowfall on Climate Beliefs

Among many of the likely effects that correspond with climate change are increased episodes of severe drought, more intense storms, and natural disasters such as wildfires and floods (IPCC, 2014). Numerous scholars have debated claims that the psychological distance between individuals and climate change may be narrowed by experiencing such weather extremes. For example, Renn (2011) argued that severe weather events can act as a focusing event or signal that can prime individuals to be more accepting of broader claims about climate change; and Capstick et al. (2015) contended that “direct personal experience of climate-related weather impacts is a way in which the otherwise distant and abstract nature of climate change can become more salient for people.”

Evidence of a relationship between various weather events and acceptance of global warming has emerged in recent years. For instance, Spence, Poortinga, Butler, and Pidgeon (2011) found that residents of the United Kingdom who had been severely affected by flooding were more confident that global warming was occurring, and they also demonstrated higher levels of concern about the impact of climate change. In another U.K.-based study, Taylor, Bruine De Bruin, and Dessai (2014) found that perceived changes in wet-weather events were strongly associated with climate change beliefs. In particular, they found that self-reported experiences with flooding significantly contributed to climate change beliefs.

A major study in the United Kingdom by Capstick et al. (2015) found that record flooding during the winter of 2013–2014 appears to have reduced the psychological distance of climate change with their results, suggesting that residents most directly affected by the flooding were more likely to rate the importance of the issue as high. In particular, the respondents that directly experienced flooding were twice as likely as the national average to indicate that climate change would be one of the top issues facing the nation in the next 20 years.

The previously discussed studies examining the effects of rainfall and flooding on climate beliefs among U.K. residents have been accompanied by some similar findings in U.S.-based studies. Weber (2010) found that American farmers have memories of rainfall and temperatures that were consistent with their beliefs regarding global warming. In particular, farmers who believed their region was experiencing global warming remembered weather trends that conformed to those beliefs.

Borick and Rabe (2014) utilized the National Surveys on Energy and the Environment (NSEE) to demonstrate the role that weather played in fluctuations in the acceptance of global warming. Between 2008 and 2010, the NSEE tracked a significant decline in the number of Americans who believed that there was evidence of global warming. Yet during 2011 and 2012, the surveys found a rebound in belief among Americans that global warming was happening. The authors used the survey results to establish the significant role that weather played in the short-term fluctuations in public opinion regarding global warming by demonstrating that individuals regularly refer to weather-related factors when explaining how they arrived at their conclusion that the planet is either warming or not.

Borick and Rabe (2014) also found that seasonal snowfall shapes the process by which individuals arrive at their conclusions regarding the existence of global warming. Specifically, snowfall levels during the winters between 2009 and 2012 correlated with an individual’s beliefs regarding the existence of global warming. Expanding upon previous studies that showed a link between weather conditions at or near the time of an interview and respondent views regarding the existence of global warming, the study found evidence that the effects of weather on perceptions of global warming are modified by factors such as party affiliation, with Democrats and Republicans using weather events in varied ways to explain their beliefs regarding global warming.

The effects of extreme weather events such as drought, flooding, and hurricanes in the United States on beliefs regarding global warming were examined by Konisky, Hughes, and Kaylor (2016) through the use of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Events Database. In this study, the authors brought together NOAA’s weather events data with measures of public opinion regarding climate change from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to test the effects of experienced weather events on climate change beliefs. The results show a modest relationship between experiencing extreme weather activity and concern about climate change, but the effect materializes only for recent extreme weather events, not for events that occurred in periods more removed from the date of the interview.

In a related study, Carlton et al. (2015) use presurveys and postsurveys to examine the effects of the severe 2012 drought in the midwestern United States on agricultural advisors’ climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy preferences. They found that climate change beliefs and attitudes about policies did not change significantly as a result of the drought. However, risk perceptions did change, with participants becoming more concerned about risks from drought and less concerned about risks related to flooding. The results suggest that extreme climate events might not cause significant shifts in climate beliefs (at least not immediately) among a group highly affected by weather and climate conditions.

While personal experiences with extreme weather may enhance beliefs and concerns about global warming by reducing the psychological distance between individuals and the phenomenon, there has been some research that warns about efforts to capitalize on this relationship to raise public concern about climate change. McDonald, Chai, and Newell (2015) argued that the “optimal framing” of psychological distance depends on the audience’s values and beliefs and the need to avoid creating fear or other emotions that can result in the avoidance of a problem. The authors suggested that a carefully tailored approach to framing the psychological distance of climate change is necessary to provide an important and useful framework for designing more effective behavior change interventions.

Motivated Reasoning, Weather, and Climate Change

One of the key questions regarding the relationship between weather and climate change beliefs involves the direction of the relationship between these variables. Does experienced weather lead to individuals adjusting their beliefs about global warming, or does it have more of an effect in terms of reinforcing existing beliefs? The previous discussion demonstrates numerous connection points between perceived and experienced weather and views on climate change, with the common assumption being that experiences with conditions consistent with global warming elevate levels of acceptance. However, an alternative hypothesis holds that one’s views on climate change may color the ways that individuals are seeing various weather phenomena. These alternative hypotheses evolve from the substantial literature on the process of motivated reasoning suggesting that individuals tend to find and process information that supports their preferred position on a matter (Kunda, 1990; Dawson, Gilovich, & Regan, 2002; Ditto, Pizarro, & Tannenbaum, 2009). Under motivated reasoning, individuals can avoid or dismiss information that is inconsistent with their prior beliefs (Taber & Lodge, 2006; Hart & Nisbet, 2011).

Motivated reasoning shares common features with the concept of cultural cognition, wherein individuals fit their perception of risk to their moral evaluation of activities that carry with them inherent dangers. Kahan, Braman, Monahan, Callahan, and Peters (2010) neatly described the cultural cognition thesis as follows: individuals are psychologically disposed to believe that behaviors they find honorable are socially beneficial, while behaviors they find objectionable are socially detrimental.

The application of motivated reasoning and cultural cognition to the study of public opinion regarding global warming, and particularly the effects of experienced weather on beliefs regarding climate change, has accelerated in recent years. Numerous studies (Myers et al., 2013; Howe & Leiserowitz, 2013; Borick & Lachapelle, 2015) have found evidence that individuals are observing and/or describing weather phenomena in a manner that is consistent with their broader beliefs regarding climate change. For example, Hamilton et al. (2016) found that perceptions of flooding in the northeastern United States follow ideological patterns resembling those of global climate change, with climate change skeptics less likely to report increasing frequency of extreme flooding events.

Myers et al. (2013) provide important insight on this matter through analysis of Americans in a longitudinal study between 2008 and 2011. The use of a panel study allows better evaluation of the causal relationship between climate change beliefs and perceived weather. In this study, the authors found that both experiential learning and motivated reasoning occur in relation to observable weather phenomenon. In essence, individuals can have their beliefs regarding global warming modified through their experiences with weather, as well as having their beliefs shape the way that that they process weather. Notably, they found that motivated reasoning occurs most often among individuals who were already highly engaged in the issue, while those less engaged were more likely to have their opinions actually shifted by experienced weather. Myers et al. (2013) noted the importance of this finding, given that about three-quarters of Americans demonstrate low levels of engagement with global warming matters.

But do individuals’ beliefs regarding global warming affect how they perceive the weather that they experience? A number of recent studies have begun to explore this relationship and found evidence that positions on climate change shape how people describe their weather. The most extensive study to examine the effects of beliefs regarding global warming on perceptions of weather was a study by Howe and Leiserowitz (2013). In this piece, the authors utilized survey data collected in the United States, including measures of both beliefs regarding global warming and perceptions of experienced weather. When asked to describe temperatures in their area during the late summer, those who believed that global warming was not occurring were significantly less likely to state that they had experienced a warmer-than-normal summer, even when controlling for recorded summer temperatures. Howe and Leiserowitz’s results suggest that the subjective experience of local climate change depends not only on actual climate conditions, but also on individual beliefs, with perceptions shaped by prior beliefs about global warming.

Borick and Lachapelle (2015) found results similar to Howe and Leiserowitz regarding the effects of climate change beliefs on evaluation of weather. In this research, conducted in the United States and Canada in 2014, individuals were asked to evaluate the weather conditions during the summer immediately preceding the interview. Americans and Canadians who believed there is solid evidence of global warming were much more likely than those that saw no evidence of global warming to report that the previous season had either colder or normal temperatures than normal (see Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1. Perceptions of Summer 2014 Temperatures by Views on the Existence of Global Warming in the United States

Solid Evidence (n = 565)

No Solid Evidence (n = 220)

Not Sure (n = 156)

A lot warmer than usual (n = 230)

29%

8%

19%

A lot cooler than usual (n=346)

38%

44%

31%

About the same as usual (n = 359)

32%

47%

50%

Not sure (n = 6)

1%

1%

<1%

Notes: x2 = 53.93; df = 6; Cramer’s V = 0.169; p = 0.000.

Table 2. Perceptions of Summer 2014 Temperatures by Views on the Existence of Global Warming in Canada

Solid Evidence (n = 1,139)

No Solid Evidence (n = 200)

Not Sure (n = 59)

A lot warmer than usual (n = 382)

31%

7%

31%

A lot cooler than usual (n = 445)

31%

39%

19%

About the same as usual (n = 527)

35%

53%

48%

Not sure (n = 44)

3%

2%

3%

Notes: x2 = 60.62; df = 6; Cramer’s V = 0.147; p = 0.000.

When controlling for the actual temperatures that were recorded in a survey participant’s area of residence, Borick and Lachapelle found that those skeptical of global warming were more likely than those who believed in global warming to report that their weather was not warmer than normal, even when measures of actual temperatures in a respondent’s area indicated otherwise.

Taken together, the Howe and Leiserowitz and Borick and Lachapelle studies appear to provide evidence of asymmetrical motivated reasoning in terms of the various cohorts of global warming skeptics and accepters. Their respective results suggest that individuals who do not believe that there is solid evidence of global warming are more likely to report weather observations that conform to their positions, even when those reports are factually inaccurate. In essence, individuals who do not think global warming is occurring are viewing the world—or at least reporting a view of the world—that does not align with the weather that was recorded in their area, but instead reflects their existing beliefs on the subject. Such findings align nicely with the theory of motivated reasoning.

Directions for Future Research

The literature regarding public opinion about climate change indicates that weather is among an array of factors that affect individual attitudes and beliefs regarding this matter. Given the obvious link between weather and climate, it may not be surprising that an increasing number of studies have found that experienced weather, both perceived and objectively measured, is correlated with measures of public acceptance of global warming, even when controlling for other factors such as educational attainment, macroeconomic conditions, and party affiliation. While the literature on the nexus between weather and beliefs regarding climate change has grown dramatically over the last decade, there are numerous aspects of this relationship that are worthy of continued scholarship.

In particular, the effects of one’s beliefs regarding the existence of climate change on his or her perceptions of the weather that they experience have been underexamined. The Howe and Leiserowitz (2013) and Borick and Lachapelle (2015) studies have provided some valuable benchmark evidence that individual views about the existence of global warming affect the way that the individuals report the type of weather that they experience. The preponderance of previous studies used beliefs regarding climate change as dependent variables, but much more can be done using climate beliefs as an independent variable. Such approaches hold substantial benefits for researchers seeking to confirm expectations of motivated reasoning.

There also appears to be a significant need for more longitudinal or panel-oriented examinations of the relationship between weather and opinion on climate change. A large majority of the studies noted in this overview employed either experimental designs or cross-sectional survey data to determine the relationship between weather factors and opinions regarding climate change. Far fewer turned to panels that could help isolate longer-term effects of weather phenomenon on perceptions of global warming and its impacts. Research such as the study by Myer et al. (2013), which employed panel design, has enriched the understanding of weather effects and should be employed more extensively in this field.

Finally, while an increasing amount of research has examined the nexus between weather and opinions regarding climate change in various countries, a disproportionate share has been conducted in the United States alone. The intensity of studies focusing on Americans may reflect enhanced academic interest in the relatively high levels of global warming skepticism in the United States and the causes of such pervasive beliefs. Nevertheless, experienced weather may affect other aspects of public opinion regarding climate change, such as level of concern, support for policy alternatives, and willingness to pay for mitigation and adaptation efforts. Cross-national studies that examine the comparative effects of weather may offer insight into how similar weather events may be received and processed by individuals in different countries.

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