A new study published in the Nature this week is drawing praise and criticism from both sides of the global warming divide. It says that the reason global warning is ranked as such a non-issue by most people in the U.S. is because it has made the weather “more pleasant” for them. The study is based on the migratory patterns of people that indicates people prefer counties that are warm and non-humid over areas that are freezing and always snowing.
The lead authors, New York University professor Patrick Egan and fellow researcher Megan Mullin, say that climate change has made the “weather more ideal over the last 40 years,” making winters more mild and summers slightly warmer. There’s a few problems, though, with the basic premise: because of a strong, naturally occurring El Niño this past winter was indeed milder, but prior to that the Northern Hemisphere has not seen an increase in temperatures as portrayed in this study. Same with summers.
Egan says that “Americans are getting the wrong signal from year-round weather about whether they should be concerned about climate change. They’re getting the good parts and haven’t had to pay the price of the bad part.” They also cautioned that Americans have “little motivation to demand action” and that there’s a likelihood that bigger climate issues are in the forecast.
Mullin, a professor of environmental politics at Duke University, told the Los Angeles Times that “We’ve received warmer winters without paying the price for hotter summers. But when you look forward… that’s going to shift, and Americans will experience weather, by their current preferences, they’re going to think of as worse.”
They created what they call a “weather preference index” and showed that winters are becoming milder while summers have remained the same (both should go up in a warming world). That is also borne out in NOAA’s U.S. Climate Extreme’s Index (CEI), a chart showing the number of heatwaves during a given summer. They also say that how you feel about global warming depends on the weather in your region, and “none of this gives the American public reason to demand change and public policies to address this critical problem,” Mullin says.
While some climate scientists are throwing in the towel for planet Earth, “the public is not receiving the message with alarm,” Mullin exhorts. “They’re receiving it with complacency. They’re thinking of warm, sunny winter days.” And she wouldn’t be that far off the mark given the hot-and-cold, cyclic climate trends the planet goes through every thirty years or so. Prior to the 2015 El Niño, 2014-15 had one of the deadliest, coldest, most brutal winters on record. Cold kills 20 times more people than heat does, and mostly on so-called “moderate” days.