The Psychology of Global Warming

By October 20, 2010 February 20th, 2013 Deniers and Delayers

American Meteorological Society The certainty that climate scientists have about climate changes becomes greater every day. Yet, the portion of the public that agrees with the principles of man-caused climate change, or the risks faced, or the speed with which our climate is changing, or even the understanding of the certainty of the scientists themselves, is far below that of the scientists, and it is falling.

The first thing Newell and Pitman say is that the public reality confuses climate with weather. That they get their contexts mixed up and don’t really understand that weather means so little to the big picture. The public doesn’t realize that even though our daily weather changes 20 or thirty or more degrees, that just a few degrees of change to our average temperature can mean curtains for many ecosystems across the Earth.

The general public doesn’t understand that a few degrees of change in Polar regions, or high elevation mountains, where snow covers the ground much of the year, will lead to two to three times more temperature change because of the "albedo effect". The albedo effect is increases warming as the snow melts, because snow reflects almost all of the suns energy back into space. Ground, or vegetation , rocks or water absorbs nine times more heat than snow and ice reflect. This heat stays on earth, it is trapped by the greenhouse effect as heat – it is not reflected harmlessly back into space as light. this extra warming then goes on to melt even more snow, which results in even more warming, etc. These things that the public does not know have a compounding effect. Warming in Arctic regions for example implies changes to weather systems that impact large portions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Warming in the high Rockies decreases the water supply to the western half of the U.S. This drought amplification process is extremely worrisome. By the end of the century, North America will experience four to seven droughts per century that are as big as the biggest drought that occurred in the 20th Century. What this means is that we will be bombarded by Dust Bowl extreme drought every ten to twenty years. This will be like having a 100-year flood every 10 to 20 years, only in reverse. Even more worrisome. The 1,000 year drought will now be an occurrence that happens every 100 years or even less. Newell and Pitman, The Psychology of global warming, American Meteorological Society, August 2010. http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/2010BAMS2957.1