The Humidity, Not the Heat

July 28, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Ideology influences how we perceive reality.  That’s most obvious in the way sports fans perceive close calls.  “They Saw a Game” (1954) was really “They Watched a Game, But They Saw Two Different Games.” 

I posted recently (here) on how people’s politics influences whether they think the economy is good or bad (or terrible).  And back in March, at the end of the warm winter, I posted this graph showing that political views influenced people’s perceptions of the weather.  Less surprisingly, ideology played an important role in the reasons people chose in explaining the warm winter.

But apparently when it comes to ideology’s influence, it’s the heat, not the humidity.   A new study in Weather, Climate, and Society (here, gated) looked at surveys from 2008-2011.  The abstract says in part
We test rival hypotheses about the origins of Americans’ perceptions of weather change, and find that actual weather changes are less predictive of perceived changes in local temperatures, but better predictors of perceived flooding and droughts. Cultural biases and political ideology also shape perceptions of changes in local weather. Overall, our analysis indicates that beliefs about changes in local temperatures have been more heavily politicized than is true for beliefs about local precipitation patterns. Therefore risk communications linking changes in local patterns of precipitation to broader changes in the climate are more likely penetrate identity-protective cognitions about climate.

Here’s my shorter version:
People’s perceptions of rainfall are more accurate than are their perception of temperatures.  If you try talk about temperature, you run up against misperception based on ideology.  If you want to convince conservatives that climate change and global warming are real, talk about the drought (or floods), not the heat.

The study is gated, and I was too cheap to pony up the $25, so I have no details.

It’s also possible that this moderately hopeful finding does not carry over to 2012.  Maybe conservatives have convinced themselves that this little dry spell isn’t all that much, certainly not part of a pattern, and that all this talk about drought, like the talk about heat, is the product of a conspiracy among 98% of the world’s climate scientists (and nearly 100% of those not on the payroll of energy behemoths).


Anonymous said...

it's a bit ironic that the areas most severely affected by the drought tend to be the "red states"...

Jay Livingston said...

One of the Senate's biggest deniers of global warming is from Oklahoma -- Jim Imhofe, who says (1) that it's not getting warmer and (2) that humans have nothing to do with climate since that's God's domain. But "red states" are suffering. And it's not just this years drought and wildfires. Red states are also disproportionately subject to other natural disasters. Maybe Imhofe is right, and God is trying to send them a message.