Letter | Published:

Global perceptions of local temperature change

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 352356 (2013) | Download Citation

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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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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Affiliations

  1. School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06405, USA

    • Peter D. Howe
    • , Tien Ming Lee
    • , Chia-Ying Ko
    •  & Anthony Leiserowitz
  2. Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, Princeton University, 326 Aaron Burr Hall, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Ezra M. Markowitz
  3. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, and Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, New York 10025, USA

    • Tien Ming Lee
  4. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA

    • Chia-Ying Ko

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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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter D. Howe.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1768

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