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America’s summer of extreme weather sparks major jump in climate crisis believers

Nearly two-thirds of US adults who experienced extreme weather now believe it was caused at least partially by the climate crisis

Bevan Hurley
Tuesday 26 September 2023 19:24 BST
Phoenix breaks heat record with 19th day of temperatures at 43C or higher

A record-shattering summer heatwave appears to be melting Americans’ scepticism towards the climate crisis, according to a new survey.

Extreme weather that brought dangerously high temperatures, wildfires, severe storms and flooding across the United States coincided with a shift in public sentiment about the causes of climate change, a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows.

The survey found 64 per cent of US adults reported having a recent experience with extreme weather and that they believe it was caused in part by climate change, up from 54 per cent in April.

And 87 per cent said they had personally experienced an extreme weather event in the past five years, with about three-quarters of respondents linking it to the climate crisis.

The polling showed views on climate were tied closely to political affiliation. Some 93 per cent of Democrats who had experienced extreme weather believe it was linked to climate change, compared to just 48 per cent of Republicans.

The summer of 2023 was the hottest ever measured in the Northern Hemisphere, according to data from NASA and the World Meteorological Organisation.

By the end of August the US had suffered 23 “weather disasters” that caused more than $1bn, surpassing the 2022 record of 22, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week.

About six-in-10 US adults reported they were affected either “a lot” of “a little” by Canadian wildfires that shrouded large parts of the US in thick smoke and smog.

Residents of Phoenix pause for a cold drink doing July’s record-breaking heat wave (Associated Press)

Although higher-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean brought by El Niño may have contributed to the record temperatures, climate scientists have concluded the primary cause is man-made use of greenhouse gases.

Experts say that the changing attitudes towards the causes of climate change is the continuation of a trend that began in 2016.

“And the signal has been getting stronger and stronger year by year as these conditions continue to get worse and worse,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, told the Associated Press.

Media coverage of climate change had affected public sentiment, with many interpreting information in a more scientific way, Mr Leiserowitz added.

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