Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Here's Something We Can Learn from Twitter

A team of researchers went to social media to assess how we're responding to climate change. Their findings have just been published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

By studying American tweets, the research confirmed that "creeping normalcy" has taken hold of the American grasp of climate change.  I wrote of this back in 2007, in reviewing Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse."
"First of all, a group may fail to anticipate a problem before the problem actually arrives. Second, when the problem does arrive, the group may fail to perceive it. Then, after they perceive it, they may fail even to try to solve it. Finally, they may try to solve it but may not succeed. ...Perhaps if we understood the reasons why groups often make bad decisions, we could use that knowledge as a checklist to guide groups to make good decisions." 
On our difficulty to perceive the onset of global warming: 
"Perhaps the commonest circumstance under which societies fail to perceive a problem is when it takes the form of a slow trend concealed by wide up-and-down fluctuations. The prime example in modern times is global warming. ...as we all know, climate fluctuates up and down erratically from year to year. ...With such large and unpredictable fluctuations, it has taken a long time to discern the average upwards trend of 0.01 degree per year within that noisy signal."
When Diamond wrote that, before 2007, climate fluctuate "up and down erratically from year to year." We're past that point now. Those erratic downward fluctuations haven't been experienced for many years. What remains entirely valid is Diamond's observation that "societies fail to perceive a problem ..when it takes the form of a slow trend."

You would think by now we would know better than to fall for this but you would be wrong and now twitter proves it.

This research shows that people’s experience of weather in recent years (rather than longer historical periods) determines the climatic baseline against which current weather is evaluated, potentially obscuring public recognition of anthropogenic climate change. It also indicates that the "remarkability" of particular temperatures changes rapidly with repeated exposure and provides evidence for a “boiling frog” effect: the declining noteworthiness of historically extreme temperatures is not accompanied by a decline in the negative sentiment that they induce, indicating that social normalization of extreme conditions rather than adaptation is driving these results.

This rapidly shifting normal baseline means warming noticed by the general public may not be clearly distinguishable from zero over the 21st century, with potential implications for both the acceptance of global warming and public pressure for mitigation policies.

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