As we sit in the middle of Winter Storm Pax, no one can deny that this has been a cold, harsh winter. We’ve experienced record-breaking low temperatures, and natural gas prices have soared to record highs. Many areas of the South less accustomed to winter weather have been battling snow, sleet, and freezing rain. I love the snow, but even I wish Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow. During winters like this one, it’s easy to take the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to climate change, especially in the middle of the 2014 Winter Olympics–all games on snow and ice. Even so, we can’t let our guard down.
National Weather Service records show that average winter temperatures have been increasing over the past few decades, and in the United States, spring has been arriving about two weeks early. Clearly, a rodent’s shadow holds no real influence. By 2080, only 6 of the 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics may still be suitable locations for future games, according to a study by the University of Waterloo, Canada. Though it’s cold now, the winter storms that have been pummeling the United States this winter are likely the effect of changing weather patterns in the Arctic, also from global warming.
Despite these facts, polls about global warming show that belief in the theory fluctuates along with the temperature. But why? People make decisions based on the information that is most accessible, according to a study by researchers at Columbia University that was published in the journal Nature Climate Change in January. This information may not present the whole picture, but shoveling snow, scraping ice off car windshields, and getting stuck in weather-induced gridlock is the information closest at hand.
The Columbia study showed that even if people are knowledgeable about climate change, the strength of their belief in global warming is dependent on the temperature outside. To further delve into the psychology, the researchers had participants unscramble sentences that talked about heat, cold, or neutral topics before asking them to complete a survey. The participants who were primed with heat-related sentences provided survey responses that indicated that they were more concerned about global warming than the participants who had been primed with cold-related or neutral sentences. It’s all about the information at hand, like Winter Storm Pax. Yet it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Global warming is impacting all nations across the world. While the eastern United States is bracing for another winter storm, Australia is grappling with record-breaking heat. We’ve also experienced record-breaking heat not too long ago—just think back to the scorching heat during the 2012 derecho power outages. Global warming is happening. Even when you’re snowed in, there are still things you can do to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming our planet. Turn down your heat, and grab a sweater. It may be cold today, but the days ahead will be much warmer if we fail to act. Stay safe, and think warm.