, Volume 118, Issue 2, pp 397-416
Date: 01 Nov 2012

How do people update? The effects of local weather fluctuations on beliefs about global warming

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Abstract

Global warming has become a controversial public policy issue in spite of broad scientific consensus that it is real and that human activity is a contributing factor. It is likely that public consensus is also needed to support policies that might counteract it. It is therefore important to understand how people form and update their beliefs about climate change. Using unique survey data on beliefs about the occurrence of the effects of global warming, I estimate how local temperature fluctuations influence what individuals believe about these effects. I find that some features of the updating process are consistent with rational updating. I also test explicitly for the presence of several heuristics known to affect belief formation and find strong evidence for representativeness, some evidence for availability, and no evidence for spreading activation. I find that very short-run temperature fluctuations (1 day–2 weeks) have no effect on beliefs about the occurrence of global warming, but that longer-run fluctuations (1 month–1 year) are significant predictors of beliefs. Only respondents with a conservative political ideology are affected by temperature abnormalities.