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Global perceptions of local temperature change

Abstract

It is difficult to detect global warming directly because most people experience changes only in local weather patterns, which are highly variable and may not reflect long-term global climate trends. However, local climate-change experience may play an important role in adaptation and mitigation behaviour and policy support1,2,3. Previous research indicates that people can perceive and adapt to aspects of climate variability and change based on personal observations4,5,6. Experience with local weather may also influence global warming beliefs7,8. Here we examine the extent to which respondents in 89 countries detect recent changes in average local temperatures. We demonstrate that public perceptions correspond with patterns of observed temperature change from climate records: individuals who live in places with rising average temperatures are more likely than others to perceive local warming. As global climate change intensifies, changes in local temperatures and weather patterns may be increasingly detected by the global public. These findings also suggest that public opinion of climate change may shift, at least in part, in response to the personal experience of climate change.

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Figure 1: Time series of mean temperature anomaly by response to 5-year temperature-change perception item.

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Acknowledgements

This research was financially supported in part by the National Science Foundation (Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant #1102785).The authors wish to thank A. Pugliese, Gallup World Poll, for assistance with the survey data and B. Yarnal, Penn State University, for guidance with the research design.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

P.D.H. conceptualized the research question and led the analysis. E.M.M. contributed to the research design and analysis. A.L. composed the survey item and contributed to the research design. T.M.L. and C-Y.K. assisted with research design. P.D.H. prepared the manuscript with input from all authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter D. Howe.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Howe, P., Markowitz, E., Lee, T. et al. Global perceptions of local temperature change. Nature Clim Change 3, 352–356 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1768

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