Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

Race, class, and gender are not the only places where individuals fail to see the big picture.  It turns out that attitudes about climate change have a lot to do with the present weather conditions.  As the author of the study states:

Global warming is so complex, it appears some people are ready to be persuaded by whether their own day is warmer or cooler than usual, rather than think about whether the entire world is becoming warmer or cooler. It is striking that society has spent so much money, time and effort educating people about this issue, yet people are still so easily influenced.

Humans, it seems, are not particularly good at systematically collecting data with which to explore their world views.  I also wonder if the apparent decline of media authority also plays a role, since reports based on data that has been systematically collected can be written off as evidence of bias.

As an aside, every time I hear a variation of the maxim expressed in the first sentence of the article above – “Don’t like the weather? Wait an hour.” – it is attached to a particular region of the country.  The more time I spend in different areas of the country, however, the more convinced I am that this saying is common in every area of the country.

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One of the great things about teaching sociology is that students can connect with some of the subject matter.  Of course, one of the downsides to teaching sociology is that students may decry research findings that do not match their personal experiences as “not true.”  As an instructor, I have stressed the fact that the experiences of individuals differ based on their differing locations in various social structures (it’s like some sort of sociological imagination…).  Public debates on climate change indicate that this problem is not limited to the social sciences.

The claim that global warming is bunk can probably be heard on any relatively cold summer day but the recent snowstorms on the East coast seem to have riled up hordes of people who forget that the global climate is not necessarily reflected in the readings of their backyard thermometer.  This has resulted in coverage of the issue by the New York Times, which reminds us that:

Climate scientists say that no individual episode of severe weather can be attributed to global climate trends, though there is evidence that such events will probably become more frequent as global temperatures rise.

Jeff Masters, a meteorologist who writes on the Weather Underground blog, said that the recent snows do not, by themselves, demonstrate anything about the long-term trajectory of the planet. Climate is, by definition, a measure of decades and centuries, not months or years.

But Dr. Masters also said that government and academic studies had consistently predicted an increasing frequency of just these kinds of record-setting storms, because warmer air carries more moisture.

“Of course,” he wrote on his blog Wednesday as new snows produced white-out conditions in much of the Eastern half of the country, “both climate-change contrarians and climate-change scientists agree that no single weather event can be blamed on climate change.

“However,” he continued, “one can ‘load the dice’ in favor of events that used to be rare — or unheard of — if the climate is changing to a new state.”

Of course, this is unlikely to prevent your neighbor (or an entire blog) from pointing to a winter snowstorm as a sure sign that years of scientific research is invalid.  It’s too bad your neighbor has never heard of sociology.

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