The return of El Niño is likely to increase global temperatures. Mr. Trenberth believes it is “reasonable” to expect that 2015 will be the warmest year on record if this fall’s El Niño event is strong and long enough.
That could make a difference in the battle for public opinion. One-third of Americans don’t trust climate scientists, according to Jon Krosnick of Stanford University, and they make their decisions about climate change “based on very recent trends in warming.” Belief in warming jumps when global temperatures hit record highs; it drops in cooler years.
A sustained period of faster warming won’t convert skeptics into climate change activists. But the accompanying wave of headlines might energize climate change activists and refocus attention on climate change heading into the 2016 presidential election. Those headlines could include landslides in Southern California, or widespread floods across the South.
The timing could provide an uncomfortable backdrop for Republican presidential hopefuls who are skeptical of climate change, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who recently said he did not believe human activity was causing climate change. Democrats, eager to cast Republicans as anti-science or to appeal to voters in the endangered coastal city of Miami, might be likelier to re-emphasize climate change if polls show an increase in the public’s belief in global warming, which Mr. Krosnick anticipates will happen if global temperatures rise to record levels.
But. . .
Even so, Mr. Krosnick doubts whether higher temperatures would compel more ambitious measures to curb carbon emissions: “It won’t vastly increase pressure on the government to do something.”
Ah, so close!