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Weather, Climate, and the Economy: Explaining Risk Perceptions of Global Warming, 2001–10

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  • 1 Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • | 2 Louisiana Office of State Climatology and Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • | 3 Department of Political Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • | 4 Department of Sociology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire
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Abstract

Two series of national survey datasets (2001–10), supplemented with monthly temperature and precipitation data and unemployment data, are used to examine how weather and climate, economic performance, and individuals’ sociodemographic backgrounds and political orientations affect public perceptions of global warming. Consistent with previous studies, political orientations play a key role in determining public perceptions of global warming. Democrats and liberals are more likely than Republicans and conservatives to see global warming as an immediate and serious problem. Sociodemographic characteristics are also shown to be significant factors, with young people, women, and racial minorities likely to show higher concern about global warming than their counterparts. Moreover, individuals with lower income and higher levels of education tend to be more concerned about global warming. Net of these factors, summer temperature trends over the past 10 years, among other weather and climate measures, are shown to have consistently positive effects on public perceptions of global warming. This suggests that individuals who have experienced increasing summer heat are most likely to perceive immediate impacts and severity of global warming. Surprisingly, macroeconomic conditions—represented by the unemployment rate at the county level—do not appear to influence public perceptions of global warming.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-13-00029.s1.

Corresponding author address: Wanyun Shao, 450 Laurel Street, Suite 1200, P.O. Box 44027, Baton Rouge, LA 70804-4027. E-mail: abby.shao@la.gov

Abstract

Two series of national survey datasets (2001–10), supplemented with monthly temperature and precipitation data and unemployment data, are used to examine how weather and climate, economic performance, and individuals’ sociodemographic backgrounds and political orientations affect public perceptions of global warming. Consistent with previous studies, political orientations play a key role in determining public perceptions of global warming. Democrats and liberals are more likely than Republicans and conservatives to see global warming as an immediate and serious problem. Sociodemographic characteristics are also shown to be significant factors, with young people, women, and racial minorities likely to show higher concern about global warming than their counterparts. Moreover, individuals with lower income and higher levels of education tend to be more concerned about global warming. Net of these factors, summer temperature trends over the past 10 years, among other weather and climate measures, are shown to have consistently positive effects on public perceptions of global warming. This suggests that individuals who have experienced increasing summer heat are most likely to perceive immediate impacts and severity of global warming. Surprisingly, macroeconomic conditions—represented by the unemployment rate at the county level—do not appear to influence public perceptions of global warming.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-13-00029.s1.

Corresponding author address: Wanyun Shao, 450 Laurel Street, Suite 1200, P.O. Box 44027, Baton Rouge, LA 70804-4027. E-mail: abby.shao@la.gov

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