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Creating a Climate for Change Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change Edited by Susanne C. Moser, Lisa Dilling Book DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511535871 Online ISBN: 9780511535871 Hardback ISBN: 9780521869232 Paperback ISBN: 9780521049924

Chapter 1 - Weather or climate change? pp. 31-43 Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511535871.004 Cambridge University Press

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Weather or climate change?
Ann Bostrom
Georgia Institute of Technology

Daniel Lashof
Natural Resources Defense Council

Introduction No sooner do we start experiencing the world than the world starts shaping our causal beliefs about it, by providing feedback on our actions, predisposing us to expect certain outcomes from particular actions, and thus to link causes to effects. It is only human to generalize and abstract stories from these. While specific actions and their specific consequences may be misremembered or forgotten (Brown, 1990; Koriat et al., 2000; Loftus et al., 1987), their cumulative legacy includes a set of general causal beliefs, or mental models, of how things work. Mental models are our inference engines, how we simulate sequences of events in our minds and predict their outcomes. Add to this vicarious experiences and adopted beliefs the effects of science education, advertising, and other communications and people can explain just about anything, including global warming, through the pre-existing lenses of their mental models. When it comes to communicating climate change, awareness of our own mental models and those of the people we want to communicate with is key. Why? Because our mental models predispose us toward particular ways of thinking about a problem, its causes, effects, and its solutions. In other words, if we hold in our minds a mental model that wrongly captures what causes a problem, our response to the problem will be equally inappropriate. For example, a heartburn mental model of chest pains leads some people to take a digestive aid rather than seek timely medical care for heart attacks. The same holds true for the ways in which we might think about global warming. In fact, the opinion surveys that we review in this chapter suggest
Support from the National Science Foundation (NSF 9022738 and 9209553) and the US Environmental Protection Agency for some of the earlier studies reported here is gratefully acknowledged. We also thank Susi Moser and Lisa Dilling for their many helpful comments on earlier versions of this chapter. Any errors are our sole responsibility.

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that past global warming messages have triggered misunderstandings and inappropriate responses. For climate change communication to be effective, it is critical that communicators understand what mental models their audiences hold, and to correct or replace those that are misleading. Study after study of global warming perceptions and beliefs demonstrate that people hold a variety of mental models about the issue, some of which mislead them regarding causes and solutions (Bostrom and Fischhoff, 2001; Bostrom et al., 1994; Bo hm and Pfister, 2001; Kempton, 1997; Lo fstedt, 1991; Read et al., 1994). Certainly, Americans do not all explain global warming the same way. From the early 1990s to the present, a handful of beliefs dominate the causes people volunteer when asked to describe or explain global warming or climate change. Many attribute global warming to human activity (Bostrom, 2001b). While people may mention automobile emissions, references to carbon dioxide (CO2) are rarely volunteered, and people are just as likely to volunteer other beliefs (Bostrom et al., 1994; Bo hm, 2001). Among these, two conflations are notable. Many continue to attribute global warming to the ozone hole or ozone depletion. Many also conflate global warming with natural weather cycles.1 We will discuss below why thinking about global warming along these lines is problematic. Mental models of hazardous processes generally include four elements: identification of the problem, causes, consequences, and controls or solutions (these may also be called recognition of symptoms, sources and pathways, effects, and mitigation or mitigating factors). An image or phrase associated with any element of the communication can trigger use of a mental model. For example, a picture of an exhaust pipe may trigger inferences about air pollution and respiratory illness. Even sounds or who communicates (the messenger) can contribute to how we think about an issue. As mentioned above, some people do not identify global warming as a problem distinct from ozone depletion. Perceived causes range from natural climate and weather variability to a variety of human actions (see below). Right or wrong, these tend to correspond to perceived controls, such as reducing air pollution. In open-ended interviews people volunteered consequences including everything from hotter summers to human health effects (Bostrom and Fischhoff, 2001). Judgments or valuations of the process (e.g., how bad it is) are often volunteered as well; some researchers believe that the images or mental representations that people hold of such processes are inherently affective that is, positive or negative (Finucane et al., 2000; see also Leiserowitz, Chapter 2, this volume). By comparison, in a line of research that is analogous to mental models studies of environmental hazards, health researchers depict common sense models of illness as

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cognitive responses to illness, parallel to and distinct from emotional responses to illness, both of which influence illness outcomes (Leventhal et al., 1992; Hagger and Orbell, 2003). Strategies for coping with illness derive from beliefs in these basic concept categories, and also from beliefs about the timeline or temporal unfolding and duration of the process and consequences (see also Moser, Chapter 3, this volume). Relatively little research has been done on perceptions of the temporal unfolding of global warming (but see, Sherman and Booth Sweeney, 2002). What we do know is that scientists use temporal unfolding (or scale) to distinguish between weather and climate, a distinction that is not obvious or salient to many. In the following we review the evidence on conflation of weather and climate, look more closely at the role of extreme weather consequences in this conflation, then at the role of natural versus human causes. Finally we examine the policy implications of these conflations, and strategies to address them through more effective climate change communications. Conflating weather and climate
Weather The state of the atmosphere at a definite time and place with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness; meteorological conditions. Climate The average course or condition of the weather at a particular place over a period of many years, as exhibited in absolute extremes, means, and frequencies of given departures from these means, of temperature, wind velocity, precipitation, and other weather elements. Bostrom et al. (1994)

The evidence that people conflate weather and global climate change comes from a variety of sources, including public opinion polls, focus groups, and cognitive studies. For almost two decades, both national polls and in-depth studies of global warming perceptions have shown that people commonly conflate weather and global climate change. There are likely several sources for this conflation, including confusion about or lack of familiarity with the temporal unfolding of each, and the scientific distinction between them. Moreover, the distinction is complicated by seasonal or interannual variability in the climate. While atmospheric scientists distinguish between climate and weather (see definitions at the top of this section), this distinction is difficult for many lay people. In one study in the 1990s where lay people provided definitions of climate, climate change, and weather, 77 percent of lay climate

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definitions were coded as weather by a half dozen independent judges. Some of the definitions conflated the two explicitly: Climate is the, is the weather or Climate is weather conditions that are on the Earth (Bostrom et al., 1994). Climate change was also defined as: Anything out of the norm. In other words, having warm winters such as weve had. Extended summers. Hot, dry summers. In a follow-up survey, 32 percent disagreed with Climate means average weather and 23 percent agreed erroneously with Weather means average climate, and 42 percent said erroneously that Climate often changes from year to year was true or maybe true (Read et al., 1994).

Weather extremes as evidence for (or against) global warming Weather changes such as warmer weather (28 percent, from Table 1.1), and, to a lesser extent, increased storm intensity and frequency (21 percent, summing lines three and five in Table 1.1), are the consequences most likely to come to mind in interviews about global climate change (see also Leiserowitz, Chapter 2, this volume). In a survey of 800 registered voters by the Mellman Group, Inc., sponsored by World Wildlife Fund, August 1114, 1997, 54 percent of respondents thought more extreme weather conditions, such as droughts, blizzards, and hurricanes, were either certain or very likely to happen as a consequence of global warming. However, only 16 percent were most concerned about these extreme weather consequences. Similarly, nearly half (49 percent) thought longer and hotter heatwaves leading to more heat-related deaths were either certain or very likely Table 1.1. Responses to open-ended questions about what people remember hearing about global warming
Phenomena associated with global warming Temperatures rising, more heat/getting hotter, climate changes Melting of polar ice cap, glaciers melting Change in weather/weather patterns, extreme weather conditions Ozone depletion, hole in ozone layer More hurricanes/tropical storms, floods, natural disasters Percent responding in affirmative 28 17 14 8 7

Source: Bostrom (2001a); this portion of the study was sponsored by NET, conducted by Hart Research and American Viewpoint, N 1,502 registered voters in eight states, September 1423, 1999.

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Fig. 1.1. Concerns about problems resulting from global warming (Replies in response to: Now I am going to list some specific problems that some people say could happen as a result of global warming. After each one, please tell me how worried you are that this could happen as a result of global warming extremely worried, very worried, worried, not that worried, or not worried at all, or do you think this is not a result of global warming?) Source: Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner survey of 1,008 likely voters conducted from December 14 to 20, 2004 for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The margin of error is /3.1 percentage points.

(Bostrom, 2001a), but only 15 percent indicated that they were most concerned about these consequences. As Figure 1.1 shows, newer data also suggest that people are less concerned about extreme weather than they are about other consequences. Current weather is treated as evidence for or against global climate change, with anecdotes more common than not. Newspapers received questions such as, Doesnt this winter show theres no global warming? in the cold winter of 2003 (Williams, 2005). In what might be seen by non-scientific audiences as only subtly different from use of weather anecdotes, changes in the frequency or patterns of extreme events have long been cited by climate scientists as evidence of global warming (e.g., J. Hansens 1988 testimony, cited in the Introduction by Dilling and Moser, this volume; Emanuel, 1997; Webster et al., 2005).

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Scientists have routinely said that any one extreme event or extreme weather season could not be directly attributed to climate change. Whether intentional or not, the media also contributed to this dissociation effect. In a study of the US network news, Ungar (2000) found no correlation between coverage of extreme weather events (heatwaves, droughts, hurricanes, and floods) and stories on climate change. The heatwave in Europe in the summer of 2003, and the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons appear to have triggered a shift away from this public dissociation. Stott, Stone, and Allen (2004) estimated the contribution of human-induced increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and other pollutants to the risk of a heatwave surpassing a mean temperature threshold: the mean summer temperature in 2003 exceeded their threshold, but no other year on record did (records started in 1851). They estimated that it is very likely (with greater than 90 percent confidence) that human influence has at least doubled the risk of experiencing such an extreme heatwave. While the scientific community and media appear to have perpetuated a dissociation between extreme weather events and climate change in the 1990s, survey data suggest that public associations between the two may have remained strong. In a pair of national surveys before and after the Kyoto debate in the fall of 1997, 69 percent and 71 percent respectively thought global warming would cause more storms (Krosnick et al., 2000), which were higher percentages than for other consequences. In a 1998 poll, the likelihood that Global warming will cause major changes in climate and weather [in the next 30 years] was judged 0.63 on average, with 37 percent of respondents estimating the likelihood between 0.76 and 1.0.2 This was a higher likelihood than that attached to the discovery of life on another planet (mean probability 0.46), or a woman being elected president of the United States (mean probability 0.59) in the next 30 years. In one recent poll, 39 percent of respondents thought the severity of recent hurricanes was the result of global climate change (by age, 47 percent of the 1834 group thought so, compared to 35 percent of respondents age 35 or higher).3 In another recent national poll with somewhat different wording, 58 percent of respondents thought global warming was very or somewhat responsible for making these storms worse.4 Causes of climate change: natural or human? While a majority of Americans believe that people have contributed to global warming, many also still view it as natural. Weather is understood as

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Fig. 1.2. Agreement that global warming is natural at the beginning and end of a survey. Source: Based on data from Bostrom (2001b).

natural, on an immense scale that can make controlling it difficult to conceive, and conflating global warming with weather may be helping to perpetuate the perception that all global warming is natural. This has two implications, commonly mentioned by respondents: first, since its natural, nothing can be done about it, and second, natural processes are cyclical, so we will be back to cooler times soon without having to do anything about it. In a national survey of 688 American adults in 1995, respondents were asked to choose between three statements regarding the relative contributions of humans and nature to global warming: 42 percent said they have equal roles, 40 percent said that global warming is brought about mostly by things people do, and 18 percent thought global warming is brought about mostly by what nature does.5 In another study in 2002, while a majority of respondents agreed with the view that in the past 100 years human industrialization has changed concentrations of gases in the atmosphere that affect the Earths climate. If we created it, we can fix it, fully a third of respondents had the view that fluctuations in weather and the Earths temperature are natural and cannot be changed, with only 7 percent agreeing with both views.6 Responses to a related question are shown in Figure 1.2, which in its wording demonstrates the proclivity for even survey designers to blur distinctions between climate and weather. Survey designers asked about respondents agreement with the statement that global warming is a natural phenomenon. This question was provided at the beginning and end of a survey on global warming attitudes and beliefs, and illustrates polarization that thinking about the topic increased the strength of both agreement and disagreement. Polarization was also found in a study of the impacts of the 1997 Kyoto debate on public opinion about global warming in the United States (Krosnick et al., 2000).

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Implications: how a weather framing can inhibit behavioral and policy change While the association between climate and extreme weather may seem like a positive in terms of drawing attention to climate change and motivating concern, it can also lead to counterproductive responses. Aubrun and Grady (2001: 2) captured the problem succinctly: When scary weather is the problem, SUVs seem like the solution. As illustrated amply in studies of health communication, fear appeals are likely to backfire unless they include concrete help regarding what to do (Witte, 1994; Hagger and Orbell, 2003; Rimal and Real, 2003; see also chapters by Moser; and Tribbia, Chapters 3 and 12, this volume). In psychometric studies, weather/natural disasters are perceived as less controllable and less dreaded than other risks. These attributes contribute to perceptions that global warming, like weather, is uncontrollable. Climate-related risks have been judged less controllable, less avoidable, and more acceptable than risks not related to climate (McDaniels et al., 1995; Lazo et al., 2000). This is consistent with risk communication theories that suggest that it is the interaction of perceived relevant threat and perceived efficacy that is, the ability to do something about the risk, to take effective action that precipitates action (Witte, 1994; Maibach and Parrott, 1995; Rimal and Real, 2003; and Tribbia, Chapter 12, this volume). Strategies to improve public understanding of climate change As suggested in the introduction of this chapter, if we want to improve the publics understanding of climate change and predispose them toward taking action (e.g., toward changing their own behaviors or supporting policy change), we need to use or develop mental models and ways of framing the climate issue that suggest the right cause(s), trigger maybe through the description of certain consequences an affective response that makes remedial action desirable, and also suggest appropriate actions or solutions. Metaphor and analogy are fundamental to our ways of interpreting and reacting to the world (Gentner et al., 2001; Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Lakoff, 1987). Improving our understanding of how different people understand and use metaphors and analogies for climate change as one in this chapter will enable policy-makers and communicators to use them much more effectively as tools. One alternative to the greenhouse effect and other common frames that trigger the ozone or weather associations has been extensively tested

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in recent years: a thickening blanket of carbon dioxide that traps heat in the atmosphere. When people were presented (or primed) with this image, their response and understanding improved markedly, suggesting these metaphors may solve some of these communication problems observed to date. In a study comparing the effectiveness of different explanations for how global warming works, people who saw a heat-trapping or CO2-induced heat-trapping explanation, as compared to no explanation, a more detailed scientific explanation, or an explanation that focused on impacts, were more likely to mention relevant concepts when asked to describe global warming (Auburn and Grady, 2001).7 Understanding the key causal mechanism that is, having a simple, correct mental model of the process is critical in promoting effective action. The key determinant of behavioral intentions to address global warming is a correct understanding of the causes of global warming (Bord et al., 2000: 205; see also OConnor et al., 1999). As discussed above, although the evidence is substantial that a majority of the US public already supports CO2 emission reduction policies, people still confuse weather with climate, and attribute or link global warming to stratospheric ozone depletion, which leads to relatively inappropriate or ineffective actions, including avoiding aerosol sprays, blaming chemical industries, and ignoring energy efficiency. Only 26 percent of those surveyed in Northwestern Ohio, Northwestern North Carolina and Southwestern Kansas believed that energy use causes global warming, and about the same proportion were willing to pay more for utilities to avert climate change (Cutter et al., 2003). People do not refer spontaneously to the greenhouse effect; the fact that CO2 traps heat is still missing from most peoples mental models of global warming (Aubrun and Grady, 2001). In sum, the greenhouse effect is not working as an explanatory metaphor. Aubrun and Grady (2001) compared the effects of brief exposures to the thickening blanket of carbon dioxide prime with those of 23 other primes, including other carbon dioxide heat-trapping primes (e.g., a carbon dioxide envelope), carbon dioxide dysfunction primes (e.g., carbon dioxide build-up), impact primes (e.g., global catastrophes), and an abbreviated scientific description of global warming. They found that the thickening blanket prime improves understanding of correct mechanisms for global warming, as well as reducing references to incorrect mechanisms. As health communications research on fear appeals predicts, focusing on the potentially catastrophic consequences of global warming without providing information about causal and potential mitigation mechanisms is ineffective and possibly even counterproductive (see chapters by

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Chess and Johnson; and Moser, Chapters 14 and 3, this volume). In contrast, improved understanding of how global warming works is positively associated with greater engagement and seeing global warming as an urgent problem. Thus, the research to date suggests that using a heat-trapping metaphor is likely to strengthen existing support for climate change reduction policies and suggestions for individual behavior change. Future studies will have to show how the use of a heat-trapping metaphor affects the development of public understanding and the support of no regrets strategies for adaptation, which many now view as necessary complements to greenhouse gas mitigation (Pielke, 2004). Summary For almost two decades both national polls and in-depth studies of global warming perceptions have shown that people commonly conflate weather and global climate change. Not only are current weather events such as heatwaves, droughts, or cold spells treated as anecdotal evidence for or against global warming, but weather changes such as warmer weather and increased storm intensity and frequency are the consequences most likely to come to mind to most people when thinking about climate change. Distinguishing weather from climate remains a challenge for many. The problem with this weather framing of global warming is that it may inhibit behavioral and policy change in several ways. Weather is understood as natural, on an immense scale, not subject to human influence. These attributes contribute to perceptions that global warming, like weather, is uncontrollable. In this chapter we presented a synopsis of the evidence for these perceptions from public opinion polls, focus groups, and cognitive studies regarding peoples mental models of, and frames for, global warming and climate change, and the role weather plays in these. The available research suggests that priming people with a model of global warming as being caused by a thickening blanket of carbon dioxide that traps heat in the atmosphere solves some of these communications problems and makes it more likely that people will support policies to address global warming.
Notes
1. The exact numbers vary by study. For example, in Read et al. (1994), 22 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that climate means pretty much the same thing as weather. Attributions to nature and to human actions are discussed below. 2. The Shell Poll, Millennium survey, N 1,264 adults nationally, November 58, 1998.

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3. ABC/Washington Post telephone poll conducted nationally September 2327, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina and during Hurricane Rita, N 1,019, margin of error /3 percent. Question wording: Do you think the severity of recent hurricanes is most likely (the result of global climate change), or is it (just the kind of severe weather events that happen from time to time)? 4. Results from Democracy Corps survey, N 1,012 likely voters, conducted September 57, 2005, margin of error /3.1 percent. Question wording: As you know, Katrina was a category 4 hurricane, and it has been proceeded in the last couple of years by a series of storms hitting Florida and the Gulf coast. How responsible do you believe global warming is for making these storms worse very responsible, somewhat responsible, not very responsible or not at all responsible? 5. Resources for the Future, funded by Ohio State University, NSF, US EPA, and NOAA; conducted by OSU Survey Research. Results based on a national sample of 688 American adults interviewed September 1October 5, 1995 (see Bostrom, 2001a). 6. Bostrom (2001b). National Opinion Surveys, one third split of 1,000 likely voters nationwide, conducted June 1927, 2002, sampling error /5 percent. 7. TalkBack study, N 400 respondents, ethnically diverse, roughly half male, half female, ages 20 and above in Chicago and Washington, DC.

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