Climate Change? Some People May Not Be Sweating It Because The Weather Is Nicer

Apr 20, 2016
Originally published on April 22, 2016 8:28 pm

For millions of Americans, climate change is making the weather nicer. That's the conclusion of a new study that points out winters are getting quite a bit milder, while summers aren't getting that much worse.

The study's authors say the mild temperatures might be one reason some people aren't so worried about climate change.

For most of the U.S., the hottest temperatures in July haven't gone up much — scientific consensus is about half a degree over the past 40 years. Same for sticky humidity — not much change, if any.

But January's highest temperatures have warmed up on average more than 4 degrees. Patrick Egan at New York University says for lots of people, that means weather many people view as "pleasant."

"I live here in New York City, and you've got shirtless beach volleyball games taking place on Christmas Eve in Central Park," Egan says. "And on Christmas Day we had a cookout. We were all wearing shorts, and ... it was bizarre and it was unusual. It was no Currier & Ives Christmas, but it was also pleasant."

As they might say in New York, you got a problem with Santa in shorts?

Egan is a political scientist who has studied why people live where they do, but the temperature numbers come from climate science. What Egan and colleague Megan Mullin at Duke University have done is calculate that about 80 percent of Americans live in places where winters are warming faster than summers. "You know, for many Americans," Egan says, "they're not experiencing really hot Julys as much as they are experiencing really warm winters. That's really the crux of this study."

Egan notes that research on where people choose to live shows that they often put a premium on warmer winters. So he says it's fair to conclude that lots of people are enjoying the change in the weather — unless they're skiers or snowboarders, perhaps. Egan and Mullin say that might be one reason many people aren't so worried about climate change.

Writing in the journal Nature, Egan says public attitudes may change quickly when summer temperature increases start increasing faster, which scientists say will happen in several decades. How fast depends on whether and by how much the world cuts back on emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the meantime, though, rapidly warming winters do pose all sorts of problems for plants and animals that can't adapt as readily as people can. And while the U.S. hasn't been hit too hard by heat waves, other parts of the world have, some of which are seeing summer maximum temperatures rise quickly.

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