Weather, Climate and Worldviews: The Sources and Consequences of Public Perceptions of Changes in Local Weather Patterns


In this paper we analyze the changes Americans perceive to be taking place in their local weather, and test a series of hypotheses about why they hold these perceptions. Using data from annual nationwide surveys of representative samples of the American public taken from 2008 to 2011, coupled with geographically specific measures of temperature and precipitation changes over that same period, we evaluate the relationship between perceptions of weather changes and actual changes in local weather. In addition, the survey data includes measures of, individual level characteristics (age, education level, gender, income) as well as cultural worldview and political ideology. We test rival hypotheses about the origins of Americans’ perceptions of weather change, and find that actual weather changes are less predictive of perceived changes in local temperatures, but better predictors of perceived flooding and droughts. Cultural biases and political ideology also shape perceptions of changes in local weather. Overall, our analysis indicates that beliefs about changes in local temperatures have been more heavily politicized than is true for beliefs about local precipitation patterns. Therefore risk communications linking changes in local patterns of precipitation to broader changes in the climate are more likely penetrate identity-protective cognitions about climate.

Weather, Climate, and Society