, Volume 122, Issue 4, pp 695-708,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 08 Jan 2014

Public perception of cold weather events as evidence for and against climate change

Abstract

It has been argued that public doubts about climate change have been exacerbated by cold weather events seen as a form of disconfirming evidence for anticipated ‘warming’. Although a link between perceptions of climate and weather is well-established, such assumptions have not been empirically tested. Here we show, using nationally representative data, that directly following a period of severe cold weather in the UK, three times as many people saw these events as pointing towards the reality of climate change, than as disconfirming it. This we argue was a consequence of these cold winters being incorporated into a conceptualisation of extreme or ‘unnatural’ weather resulting from climate change. We also show that the way in which people interpret cold weather is associated with levels of pre-existing scepticism about climate change, which is in turn related to more general worldviews. Drawing attention to ‘extreme’ weather as a consequence of climate change can be a useful communication device, however this is problematic in the case of seasonal cold.