There was a time, not too long ago, when I didn't know the Arctic existed. Sure, I knew there was a North Pole and that it was cold there, but somehow I always thought that the Arctic and the Antarctic were the same thing, that someone had forgotten to add the Ant-. And of course, polar bears were hunting penguins. Or vice versa. Whatever.
It was around 2006 when I started to get interested in global warming and the changes in climate it could cause, just before An Inconvenient Truth would shift the Climate PR war to higher gears. I vaguely noticed there is a place called 'the Arctic' - where the ocean is covered by a floating layer of ice of a few metres thick - when the perfect storm of 2007 annihilated the 2005 sea ice area and extent records. I remember reading about it on RealClimate and the comments there were the spark that would eventually fire my intention to start this blog.
In the meantime the 2012 melting season - not a perfect storm, even though it hosted a big one towards the end - annihilated all of the 2007 records. It's quite clear now that sea ice is melting much, much faster than anticipated, and the jaw-dropping sight of an ice-free Arctic that was projected to occur somewhere towards the end of this century, could be witnessed towards the end of this decade (if not earlier). The melting itself as well as potential consequences are getting more and more media attention, and lately I have been wondering how much of this news is actually seeping into the collective consciousness.
This is something that is actively researched by University of New Hampshire professor of sociology Lawrence 'Larry' Hamilton, Arctic sea ice graph virtuoso and number 1 guest blogger on the ASI blog with a continuing series of interesting posts on statistical forecasts of sea ice trends.
In August last year a research paper of his was published in the journal Weather, Climate and Society, called Did the Arctic Ice Recover? Demographics of True and False Climate Facts. This paper is about how ideological biases can influence the way people process information. Instead of accumulating information first and then reach a conclusion, it happens the other way round. With a conclusion firmly in mind people look for information that reinforces their beliefs, an easy thing to do in this age of fragmented media.
It partly explains how the recovery-propaganda, that was so fervently spread by fake skeptics after the 2008 and 2009 minimums didn't go below the 2007 record, still lingers on to this very date. Hamilton writes:
Nationally, 80 percent of those who believe that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities, also know that Arctic ice area has declined. Only 60 percent of those who believe climate is changing for natural reasons, and 32 percent of those who believe it is not changing, accept this fact. The answer that sea ice area has recovered is chosen by only 5 percent of those believing climate is changing now due to humans, 16 percent of those who believe current change is natural, and 40 percent of those who believe climate is not changing.
It could take a while until all folks with a conservative bent (nothing wrong with that, by the way) learn that the 2007 record was smashed in 2012 and things generally aren't looking too great in the Arctic, especially now that the misinformers that peddled the recovery-propaganda are mostly silent about Arctic sea ice (except for the usual shameless disinformation around this time of the year when extent is at its max), or prefer to stick to copying news reports without giving their opinion, interspersed with the odd cherry pick, never to be corrected. But this is a minority that will probably die of old age in the coming two decades. How about the population in general?
This is something that Larry Hamilton has now shifted his attention to. The question "If the Arctic region becomes warmer in the future, do you think that will have no effects, minor effects, or major effects on the weather where you live?" has been part of statewide New Hampshire surveys in October 2012, February 2013 and this month. At least 500 random-sample telephone interviews each time, where that question is in a mix with 30 or 40 other questions about politics, beliefs or background characteristics. Sixty percent of the large statewide sample (n = 1,688) think that Arctic warming will have "major effects" on the weather where they live.
It will be interesting to see if the numbers below will change in sync with the Arctic changes, but actually I'm surprised how many people already don't feel comfortable about the idea that the Arctic continues to warm (and lose ice). I mean, 45% of Republican voters thinks Arctic warming will have major effects on the weather where they live. Maybe the recovery-propaganda isn't working as well as hoped.
Regarding my own social environment I can say the following: most friends and family members don't have a clue. Not here in Austria, not in the Netherlands where I was born and bred, not in Germany where I lived for two years, not in Croatia where my roots lie. I've started talking a bit more about Arctic sea ice and potential consequences of its loss, but the conversation quickly and inevitably turns to those subjects that are foisted upon us by consumer culture (although I could go on for three days of course, if my wife wouldn't nudge me or kick me under the table).
All this will change soon. Scarlet P., also known as the Freewayblogger, sent me a fantastic poster of the Earth with the Arctic on top to thank me for the blog post I wrote about his slogan contest (check out the results and great slogans here). It's really big, like 1.5 square metres, and I'm going to hang it up in our new (still to build) house in a place where it is bound to get the conversation going.
And then I will spam them continuously with links to the ASIB, ASIF and ASIG. Maybe things will then change and I'll start to feel less like a the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. One can always hope.
What is your perspective on the public perception of Arctic sea ice loss? Do you notice any changes around you? Are people becoming aware of the existence of the Arctic and its disappearing sea ice?