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Summer Weather Disasters Change Americans’ View of Climate Change

A corn plant struggles to survive in a drought-stricken field in Illinois. The sweeping drought in Midwest this summer killed crops. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images, July 2012.
After a summer of heat waves, droughts and severe storms, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a study this week reporting that a growing majority of Americans see climate change at work in the weather. Seventy Four percent of Americans said that they believe climate change is affecting weather in the United States, a five percentage point increase from the group’s previous survey in March 2012.

The study also found that 61 percent of Americans say that the weather in the U.S. is getting worse — an increase of nine percentage points from the previous survey, said Edward Maibach with George Mason University, one of the principal investigators on the project.

“The changes are stunningly large,” he said. “Americans are connecting the dots and seeing extreme weather events as driven by or made worse by global climate change.”

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, said the extreme weather of the summer is responsible for the shifts in Americans’ thoughts in the six months between the surveys. Forest fires, heavy floods and droughts that swept the country this summer made extreme weather very personal. One in five Americans said that these events harmed their health, property or finances, a six point increase since March.

Leiserowitz thinks that more of the public will recognize climate change patterns as they experience more wild weather events over their lifetimes.

“People are not just puppets. They are not just pulled by warm temperatures one way and cold temperatures another,” he said. “People see those things happening and start thinking of those things themselves: could it have anything to do with climate change?”

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