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article imageCan we recognize signs of climate change before it's too late?

By Karen Graham     Feb 25, 2019 in Science
The extreme weather that comes with climate change is becoming the new normal, so normal that people aren't talking about it as much - and that could make them less motivated to take steps to fight global warming, according to new research.
The one thing humans around the world have in common is talking about the weather, especially when we can't think of anything else to talk about. With climate change, we are exposed to conditions that are historically unusual and oftentimes, traumatic - that will become increasingly common over time.
The question is - what kind of weather will we begin to think of as being normal or unusual under these changing conditions? What does this say about our perception of climate change? A study led by the University of California, Davis, examined these questions through the lens of more than 2 billion U.S. Twitter posts.
The study, "Rapidly declining remarkability of temperature anomalies may obscure public perception of climate change," was published Feb. 25 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and involved the study of over two million comments on the weather. using the Twitter platform.
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In this interesting study, researchers examined over 2.18 billion geolocated tweets created between March 2014 and November 2016. They found that when temperatures were terribly unusual for a particular time of year, people would comment on it.
However, if the same thing happened the following years at about the same time, people stopped commenting as much. And if this weather persisted year after year, it generated less comment on Twitter, indicating that people began to view it as normal in a relatively short amount of time.
The research team reached the conclusion that this is a sign that because of memory limitations and their own expectations and biases, humans may not be the best judges of temperature change, especially from an observational level. CNN News notes that experiencing weather in recent years is what determines our "baseline" for evaluating the current weather, rather than looking at it in the historical context.
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"There's a risk that we'll quickly normalize conditions we don't want to normalize," said lead author Frances C. Moore, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy.
"We are experiencing conditions that are historically extreme, but they might not feel particularly unusual if we tend to forget what happened more than about five years ago."
As gross as it is, the study authors say this is a classic example of the boiling-frog metaphor: "The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death."
A frog sitting on a saucepan handle
A frog sitting on a saucepan handle
James Lee (CC BY 2.0)
While no one would really do such a thing to a frog - the metaphor is a cautionary tale says Science Daily, warning against normalizing the steadily changing conditions caused by climate change.
"We saw that extreme temperatures still make people miserable, but they stop talking about it," Moore said. "This is a true boiling-frog effect. People seem to be getting used to changes they'd prefer to avoid. But just because they're not talking about it doesn't mean it's not making them worse off."
The study's co-authors are Nick Obradovich of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Flavio Lehner from National Center for Atmospheric Research and Patrick Baylis from the University of British Columbia.
More about Climate change, Perception, Twitter, Temperature, THE BOILING FROG
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