Akerlof, K., E.W. Maibach, D. Fitzgerald, A.Y. Cedeno, and A. Neuman, 2012: “Do people ‘personally experience’ global warming, and if so how, and does it matter?” Global Environmental Change, doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.07.006.
For most people, the direct and personally observable signals of climate change should be difficult to detect amid the variability of everyday weather. Yet, previous research has shown that some people believe they have personally experienced global warming. Through four related studies, our paper sheds light on what signals of global warming some people believe they are detecting, why, and whether or not it matters. These studies were conducted using population survey and climatic data from a single county in Michigan. Study 1 found that 27% of the county’s adult residents felt that they had personally experienced global warming. Study 2 – based on content analysis of people’s open-ended responses – found that the most frequently described personal experiences of global warming were changes in seasons (36%), weather (25%), lake levels (24%), animals and plants (20%), and snowfall (19%). Study 3 – based on NOAA climatic data – found that most, but not all, of these detected signals are borne out in the climatic record. Study 4 – using the survey data – found that personal experience of global warming matters in that it predicts perceptions of local risk of global warming, controlling for demographics, political affiliation, and cultural beliefs about national policy outcomes. We conclude that perceived personal experience of global warming appears to heighten people’s perception of the risks, likely through some combination of direct experience, vicarious experience (e.g., news media stories), and social construction.