Is the US geographically unable to perceive global warming?

Global warming has long been a bigger public issue in Europe than in the US, and pundits have always assumed this is because Europe is more left-wing than America. But what if it’s simply because the geography of Europe makes it more likely that people notice global warming?

That’s the contention of an interesting — if too-short — piece in the Week in Review section of today’s New York Times. Andrew Revkin points out that the countries of Western Europe often experiences extreme weather events together, such as the 2003 heat wave that killed thousands. Since the same thing is happening to diverse populations, it makes it more likely that they’ll suspect something is awry in the global climate. In the US, however, precisely the opposite happens: The structure of the continent makes it such that a homogenous population regularly experiences totally different vicissitudes of weather in different regions. For example, in the last few weeks, Denver has been ploughed under with freaky levels of snow, while New York basks in a September-like balm. This has to do with geography:

In the lower 48 states, he said, conditions are shaped by variable patterns of warming and cooling in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the atmospheric blockade created by the Rockies and other factors.

This essentially guarantees that the country is almost always experiencing more than one so-called climate anomaly at a time, Dr. MacCracken said.

“People live the weather,” he said. “Climate is a mental construct.”

Interesting point. I’d love to see it a bit more fleshed out, though.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson