Can People Detect Changes in their Local Climate?

Who remembers a hot summer or a cold winter? The asymmetric effect of beliefs about global warming on perceptions of local climate conditions in the U.S. by Peter D. Howe and Anthony Leiserowitz


This paper explores the phenomenon of local climate perception and the extent to which public perceptions match climate conditions as recorded in instrumental climate data. We further examine whether perceptions of changes in local climates are influenced by prior beliefs about global warming, through the process of motivated reasoning. Using national survey data collected in the United States in 2011, we find that subjective experiences of seasonal average temperature and precipitation during theprevious winter and summer were related to recorded conditions during each season. Beliefs about global warming also had significant effects on subjective experiences with above-normal temperatures, particularly among those who believed that global warming is not happening. When asked about the summer of 2010, those who believed that global warming is not happening were significantly less likely to report that they had experienced a warmer-than-normal summer, even when controlling for demographics and local climate conditions. These results suggest that the subjective experience of local climate change is dependent not only on external climate conditions, but also on individual beliefs, with perceptions apparently biased by prior beliefs about global warming.