Rapidly declining remarkability of temperature anomalies may obscure public perception of climate change

Frances C. Moore, Nick Obradovich, Flavio Lehner, and Patrick Baylis. PNAS.

Climate change exposes people to conditions that are historically unusual but that will become increasingly common over time. What kind of weather do people think of as normal or unusual under these changing conditions? 

This research shows that people’s experience of weather in recent years (rather than longer historical periods) determines the climatic baseline against which current weather is evaluated, potentially obscuring public recognition of anthropogenic climate change. It also indicates that the "remarkability" of particular temperatures changes rapidly with repeated exposure and provides evidence for a “boiling frog” effect: the declining noteworthiness of historically extreme temperatures is not accompanied by a decline in the negative sentiment that they induce, indicating that social normalization of extreme conditions rather than adaptation is driving these results.  

This rapidly shifting normal baseline means warming noticed by the general public may not be clearly distinguishable from zero over the 21st century, with potential implications for both the acceptance of global warming and public pressure for mitigation policies. 

Social Sciences

What influences people's thinking and reactions to climate change?

Social Sciences
Access: Public