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Science

Americans Believe Temperatures Have Not Been Warmer Than Usual

One of my pet topics to write about are the results of Gallup polls that come out once or twice a year from Gallup’s annual Environment survey. Gallup will poll over a weekend in March 1,022 adults aged 18 and older living within all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. From that representative sample will come some fascinating tidbits regarding American’s perceptions and understanding of the environment.

I have not been overly complementary of Americans when covering these polls.

Haflway through 2011 I wrote an article entitled “Americans More Self-Centered Than Ever” regarding the average Americans general level of environmental concern.

A year ago I covered the same annual Environmental poll which saw Americans responding to whether the winter just past was warmer, cooler, or the same as usual. 79% of all Americans surveyed thought that it was warmer than usual (a perception backed up by the evidence) while only 30% of the overall attributed that unusual warmth to global warming; 46% attributed it to normal variances.

This year, the same question was asked and, again, the answers were backed by the available evidence. 45% of respondents said that the weather was about the same, and another 19% that it was colder than usual.

Far Fewer Americans Believe Latest Winter Was Warmer Than Usual
Image Credit: Gallup

Only 34% of respondents said that it was warmer than usual, with 20% of the overall attributing it to global warming, above 13% who said it was warmer and attributed it to natural variances.

On a basic level, asking someone whether the winter felt warmer or cooler will always be a tricky business. While the respondent may have access to data from the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is unlikely, and their answers will most likely be inspired by what the weatherman said and what they experience.

Data from the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for January and February shows that temperatures were cooler than the year before. January’s average national temperature was 31.90 degrees, compared to 36.20 in 2012, while February’s average was 34.78 compared to 37.74 the year before.

National Temperature Values Feb 2013
National Temperature Values February 2013
Image Credit: National Climatic Data Center

The data from this latest Gallup poll will start to inseminate itself into the public conversation as the weeks move forward. “Is global warming real?” they’ll ask, considering that temperatures were cooler this winter compared to the last. “Is it over?”

The average American’s (and Australian’s, for that matter) knowledge of the mechanics and reality of global warming has been spotty at best. Two years ago I looked at a story which found that people’s perception of the overall condition of global warming were unduly influenced by how hot or cold it was on the day they were asked. Meanwhile, in the same annual Environment poll conducted by Gallup in 2012, political affiliation played a significant role in attributing the unlikely winter-warmth to natural variances or global warming.

All in all, this latest poll is a lot of the same information again, based on a relatively sensible winter for Americans. No doubt public opinion will fluctuate wildly over the next year before we get to see what winter 2014 does.




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