Climate change has meant global warming for most Americans, making them less inclined to see the need for action on the issue, so says a new study by researchers at two U.S. universities. By the time the public feels the sting of climate change later this century, it will be too late to put policies in place that will have any effect.
Patrick J. Egan, an associate professor in NYU’s Wilf Family Department of Politics, authored the study with Megan Mullin, an associate professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The results were published in the journal Nature.
Internationally, experts echo the warnings as set out in the study. Leaders and representatives from more than 170 countries gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on Friday to sign the Paris accord on climate change, but scientists and climate change experts warn that it may already be too little, too late, adding that many world leaders have yet to produce any concrete plans for a future beyond fossil fuels.
The Paris accord itself requires commitments that would already allow for global warming of up to 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which would already have major effects on global climate, including rising sea levels. Jeffrey Sachs, the director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and a special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was quoted in the Guardian questioning U.S. President Obama’s commitment to climate change action despite a progressive stance and rhetoric.
“Why is it that with an administration that is gung-ho on climate we are in the eighth year and there is no plan at all? No sketch, no white paper, no scenario to 2050?”
According to Egan and Mullin, the answer may be that so far, the majority of Americans have experienced better weather as a result of climate change. The study published in the journal Nature notes that about 80 percent of Americans live in areas where global warming over the last four decades has meant more pleasant winters without making summers unbearably hot.
Patrick J. Egan comments in an NYU media release.
“Rising temperatures are ominous symptoms of global climate change, but Americans are experiencing them at times of the year when warmer days are welcomed.”
The two researchers used weather data to confirm a link between local weather and how people felt about climate change. They also analyzed patterns of migration across the country to gauge general preferences. Mullin draws the connection between the weather and the attitudes of the public.
“Weather patterns in recent decades have been a poor source of motivation for Americans to demand policies to combat the climate change problem.”
The same researchers, however, found that Americans’ complacency about climate change is likely to change. By the end of the 21st century, it is projected that about 90 percent of the American population will be experiencing much less pleasant conditions. Over the last 40 years, January temperatures have increased by about 1.04 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, while average July temperatures rose only by 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit over the same period. Summer temperatures, however, will eventually begin to rise faster than winter temperatures, creating a change for the worse. Unfortunately, by the time Americans become dissatisfied with the weather, climate change experts warn that it will be too late.
The NYU/Duke study is not without controversy, however. Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post where he disputes the idea that rising average temperatures in January make weather more pleasant when, in fact, many Americans experience many more extreme events such as floods, heat waves, and drought than they did 40 years ago.
The disputes, however, leave the question of why the American public is, in fact, reluctant to take specific action on global warming or climate change unanswered.
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