Your weather tweets show your climate Amnesia


Whenever someone in position of power (for example) says that a cold snap in winter proves that climate change is not a thing, it is a conscientious chorus that responds with a familiar refrain: time is not the climate. weather occurs on the scale of days or weeks, over a distance relevant to cities or states. Climate happens over decades, even centuries, for an entire planet.

The problem is, guess what are people living on the scale of time and space?

The question of what can lead humans to understand climate change is literally existential. This is complicated by the pathetically short lifespan of humans and their attention span, which resembles that of a cat in a laser pointer quality assurance lab. How can we expect people to understand the global implications, encompassing the millennium, of their half-remembered actions? There is bad news on this front and, as usual with the bad news, it comes from Twitter.

The graphs on the left show temperature anomalies: more cold weeks at the top, more hot weeks at the bottom. And right, the number of tweets overall, down after years of exposure to these anomalies.

Moore et al./PNAS

On a database of 2.18 billion tweets sent by 12.8 million people in the continental United States – without any identifying information, except for the date and date Location – a team of climatologists isolated those who spoke of the weather. Specifically, they looked for tweets indicating whether it was hot or cold. Then, they compared the volume of these tweets to the "reference temperature" of the county of origin. that is, they examined historical data to find out if the county was experiencing an unusual number of hot or cold days over time.

In a sense, the researchers found what you might think. People get angry when it's bad weather. But then, curiously, they stop. What seemed extreme is starting to look normal. "If you've had unusually hot or cold weather recently, it reduces the likelihood of you tweeting the weather," says environmental scientist Fran Moore at UC Davis and lead author of an article about it. in the news. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It's not that people are getting used to this new normality. They are simply blinded. Moore and his colleagues ran the no-weather tweets from their Twitter corpus via two different automated sentiment analysis systems, the Valencia Knowledge Dictionary on stress reasoning (VADER) and the much less cool language survey and word count. Feelings analysis is always an area in which smart people may not agree on whether it works, but even so, the two emotional content analyzes of these tweet streams showed the same thing . "People stop chirping about these unusual temperatures," says Moore, "but to the best of our knowledge, the temperatures still make them quite miserable." Yes, even for Twitter.

It has been about a century since people started to seriously inject greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Climatological researchers rely on millennia-old data such as dark circles and ice cores to show changes. But, Moore says, it only takes about five years for people to forget what was normal. The designer Randall Munroe was right in a 2013 XKCD strip: "What was normal now is too cold." And that worries scientists like Moore, because it could mean that people have essentially amnesia in the face of climate change. The variation is too subtle for anyone to be able to account for it or do anything – unless it is, when it is too late. Which, no doubt, is now.

Basically, this idea is called "basic progressive syndrome". As often happens when there are ecological disasters, Ocean researchers have first noticed it. While the commercial fishery collapses, what constitutes a "big catch" is set downward, as marine biologist Daniel Pauly wrote in 1995. While the general climate takes the quality of no -stationnarity – where past performance no longer predicts future events – memory becomes shorter and shorter. It is not historical, nor generational, nor even going back to childhood; all we have left is now.

Or maybe not. Do not panic. "It's an important discovery to see what they call remarkable, the observability of these unusual weather patterns tends to diminish over time," says Peter Howe, a geographer at Utah State University, who studies understanding climate by people. "The effect they discover is real. This poses some interesting questions about the relationship between perceptions and opinions. In Howe's own work, which uses survey data as opposed to the extreme opportunity of social media, people from 89 different countries were able to tell when were coming up.

Even more curious, time has not changed people's minds about climate change as much as the other way. People who understood that human activities were warming the planet were more likely to perceive weather events as being related to climate change. Those who did not do it did not do it. And people's views on climate change have nothing to do with their political affiliation. "Our pre-existing belief on the issue, motivated by political factors and other factors, shapes what we think we have lived," says Howe.

Yet even this base is changing. Data from surveys conducted by Yale's communications program on climate change show a marked change over the past five years. Since 2013, the number of Americans worried about climate change has increased by 16 percentage points, reaching nearly 70% of the total. People who think that this is of human origin have increased by 15%, accounting for 62%. These trends are observed both in the survey and in the political trends. So, of course, 95% of self-identified Liberal Democrats are "very" or "somewhat worried" about global warming. But the same goes for 32% of conservative Republicans, compared to 14% five years ago.

The five-year national climate assessment and global threat assessment of the national intelligence community underscored the current and ongoing dangers posed by human-induced climate change, from extreme weather events to heat-related deaths. , going through disease outbreaks. More than a fifth of corn grown in the United States is genetically engineered to withstand drought, suggesting that no matter what farmers think of climate change, they know the climate is changing. Even petrochemical companies admit in court that climate change is real, dangerous and caused by humans (while still extracting from the soil and selling the chemicals that cause it – no doubt their fiduciary duty, well than genocidal).

Despite the mnemonic framework suggested by Moore's research on Twitter, most countries are ready to take action to counter climate change, be it a Green New Deal or another attack on the problem . As a climatologist (herself somewhat skeptical) observed Andrew Revkin in National Geographicthe last bulwark of unbelief is the White House, which is, frankly, a bastion hell.

The next step is to understand what makes humans believe that humans are changing the climate, while changing their own basic conditions. "We are not saying that this result means that no one will believe in climate change because people's own weather experiences are not the dominant information they use," says Moore. . "What you could say is that you can not expect the weather people's experience to passively convince them." Then, she will try to determine if events other than the change in temperature could have a greater impact – forest fires, hurricanes, or coastal floods. The weather is definitely not the climate, but extreme the weather can still change.

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