Scientists are always reminding us that we can’t judge the warming planet by our personal experience. But sometimes you can.
A Gallup World Poll of about 91,000 people in 89 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe found that people are accurately observing changes in their local climates. The study of that poll, which represents 80 percent of the world’s population, that was done by the Yale Project for Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) and published in a recent issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.
The climate scientists compared what people observed with the data on actual local climate and found that people’s perceptions are generally correct, with some caveats. One is that people are more likely to think things are warming during the warmer seasons. That’s no surprise, but considering the kinds of record-breaking heat waves that are being seen in many places, it’s not exactly wrong.
By the numbers, they found that of the 91,073 people surveyed, 72.8 percent perceived things getting warmer, 16.9 percent felt there was no change and 10.3 percent detected that things were getting cooler. The responses generally reflected the local climate data (that is to say, some places the average temperature was unchanged and in others there was cooling, but mostly there was warming).
In case you are wondering how 91,000 people can present billions, it’s all a matter of statistics. According YPCCC’s director, Anthony Leiserowitz, statistics show that a thousand randomly sampled people can represent about 300 million with an uncertainty of plus or minus 3 percent. So you just have to do the math to see that 91,000 is ample.
Now you might ask: So what? What difference does it make if people are mostly right in their perceptions? The researchers have a very practical answer:
“This finding may have important implications for our collective ability and willingness to respond to climate change in the coming years (for example, mitigation and adaptation)…., motivating greater engagement with the issue as the climate warms.”
Let’s hope so.