In a survey conducted before “polar vortex” entered the vernacular, 23 percent of those questioned said they didn’t believe the world is getting warmer, up 7 percent from the spring, according to researchers at Yale and George Mason Universities.
While the “polar vortex” cold wave had nothing to do with the results, since the survey was concluded on Dec. 9, last week’s cold wave may well have driven up the numbers of non-believers, said Yale’s Anthony Leiserowitz, the lead researcher.
That said, about two-thirds of those surveyed do believe the world is getting warmer, along with scientists who actually are keeping track.
The research team broke down the respondents into six categories: The alarmed, the concerned, the cautious, the disengaged, the doubtful, and the dismissive.
About half the people fell into the concerned and cautious groups; roughly 30 percent were divided evenly between the alarmed and the dismissive, with the balance in the other categories.
This is a wholly unscientific observation, but our perception is that the alarmed and dismissive generate more heat than those in the other categories.
“What they engage in is motivated reasoning,” Leiserowitz said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “You look for evidence that validates what you believe.”
“Those two extremes are prone to interpret those events in ways that seem to validate their beliefs,” he said.
As an example, he cited the tornado tragedy in Joplin, Mo, in 2011, which some held up as a manifestation of global warming, when the scientific linkage between tornadoes and climate change is wanting.
Similarly, last week’s cold outbreak was seized upon by some as proof that global warming was a figment of the extremist imagination.
“You cannot take any weather event and say this proves global warming,” he said, reiterating a point oft made by climatologists and meteorologists.
What is known is that the world has been warming incrementally, but this is not a spectator sport.
During the warming period of the last 30 years, global temperatures have increased at the rate of about 0.025 degrees Fahrenheit per year, or 0.25 degrees per decade, according to both the National Climate Data Center’s analysis of surface stations and NASA’s satellite data.
The Climate Center estimates that the 20th Century global temperature was 57 degrees Fahrenheit. The estimated temperature for 2012 was 58.04 degrees.
It will release its 2013 report next week, and we would be surprised if last year didn’t make the top 5 for warmness in the period record dating to 1880.
The most-recent global report listed November as the warmest November on record, and the Jan. 1-Nov. 30 period as the fourth-warmest.
Still, temperatures probably will finish just a few hundredths of a degree higher than last year’s.
Given such small inter-annual changes, it makes sense that extreme warmth in one area means extreme cold somewhere else. And last week temperatures in Fairbanks, Alaska were off-the-charts warm.
To reiterate: Worldwide warming has been a ponderous process, and at this rate, neither cold nor winter is targeted for extinction anytime soon.
Cold will continue to build in the polar regions during winters, and some of that inevitably is going to spill southward.
You'll find the survey here.