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Extreme Cold and Public Opinion on Climate Change


Icicles hang off the State Highway 195 sign on February 18, 2021 in Killeen, Texas. As millions of Americans shivered through the catastrophic winter storms of early 2021, the national conversation turned like clockwork toward climate change.

This time the question that always arises with extreme weather— what does this have to do with global warming? —was dwarfed by concerns over deadly failures in the electric grid and whether fossil fuels or renewables played a bigger a role in the crisis. The science suggesting that loopier winds from a warming Arctic push icy storms southward nevertheless remained in the news coverage during and after the storms. But according to researchers, the cold weather itself may matter more than the science for getting people talking about climate change.

Offering clues, one study from 2016 examined more than 10,000 tweets from across the United States before and during localized climate-connected events. It found that heavy snow and extreme cold sparked significant chatter about climate change on Twitter—far more than either heat waves or drought. But the authors could not confirm whether these messages expressed concern or skepticism about climate change, partly because it’s hard to discern sarcasm online. It may be that experiencing […]

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