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Sierra Daily

Feb 10, 2011

Hot Flashes

We are moving toward a general psychological theory about belief in global warming, and boy is it depressing. First, if it's unseasonably warm when it ought to be cold, people seem to recognize that global warming is happening but they don't care. Second, if it snows a lot in the winter people start disbelieving in global warming, even if increased snowfall is predicted by climate models. Contrariwise, now comes a study by Jane Risen of the University of Chicago and Clayton Critcher of the University of California at Berkeley demonstrating that, as described by Tom Jacobs in Miller-McCune, "belief in global warming increases along with the temperature one is currently experiencing."

The researchers found that when university students were taken outside (on a pretext of judging the height of various campus buildings) and then asked to fill out a questionnaire,

"ambient temperature significantly predicted the belief in the validity of global warming, with participants reporting greater belief on warmer days. In fact, the effect of temperature was a strong as ideology, and was not qualified by it. Thus, outside temperature influenced liberals and conservatives similarly."

Another study conducted indoors achieved similar results; students who took the questionnaire in a heated cubicle were more likely to view global warming as a fact than those in cooler spaces. As Jacobs notes, this leads to a "tragic irony":

Thanks to our use of greenhouse gas-emitting energy supplies, we now spend our summers in air-conditioned buildings and cars, which makes it harder for us to comprehend, on a visceral level, the reality of a warming world. Without such a sense, dire scenarios seem implausible and easy to dismiss.

--Paul Rauber

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