Will a summer of global climate extremes turn more East Texans into believers?

July was brutal for much of the planet. Europe’s ongoing drought is so severe you can see the dryness from space. Japan’s heatwave has killed more than a hundred and hospitalized tens of thousands. A thermometer at the Arctic Circle read nearly 90 degrees. And northern California is still on fire.

By comparison, Tyler actually had a mild month. The temperature at Pounds Field cracked 100 degrees on 10 separate days — a far cry from the worst July in recent memory. Many of us remember the summer of 2011, when the daily high barely fell below 100 degrees for all of July and August.

This disparity between what we read about in the global news and what we feel here in East Texas may be why a majority of East Texans aren’t particularly worried about climate change. According to a 2016 survey from Yale University, while a solid majority of Smith County residents believe climate change is happening, fewer than half believe it’s caused by humans, and barely a third believe it will harm them personally.

While we can’t feel always see climate change happening around us, it’s clearly visible in the data. A surprising number of scientists have already linked this summer’s global heat wave to human-caused climate change. Researchers have estimated that this summer’s extremes in Northern Europe are twice as likely as they would be if humans hadn’t altered the climate.

Even in Tyler, direct evidence is mounting. The three hottest years on record for Smith County, going back to 1895, all occurred within the past 10 years.

There is also growing reason to think the consequences of this warming will be felt here in the pine forest. A study published last year in the journal Science estimates that by the end of this century, many counties in the southern U.S., including in Texas, will lose up to 15 percent of their economic output to climate change. This would result from declining agriculture yields, increasing energy usage, and a shrinking number of hours in which laborers can safely work outdoors. The study accounts only for impacts that can reasonably be estimated and not for more existential threats, such as mass migration or loss of biodiversity.

However, even amidst all the bad news, there is reason for optimism. While many Smith County residents doubt that climate change will impact them, the Yale survey also shows that an overwhelming majority support at least some efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change. Two thirds are in favor of regulating carbon dioxide emissions, and more than 75 percent support government funded research into renewable energy sources.

Do you have questions about climate change? Are you wondering if something you heard about it is true? The Loop recommends the YouTube series Global Weirding, hosted by Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. 

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Chris Groskopf is co-founder of The Tyler Loop and a member of its board of directors. He is a pioneer in the field of data-driven storytelling, having worked at The Chicago Tribune, NPR, and Quartz. In addition to his work as a journalist, Chris runs a software engineering team for Enigma, a New York City-based data technology startup.
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