Global Climate Change: Missing in Action

Global climate change hasn't gone away, but the political will to take action has disappeared. Why? What can you and I do about this tragic situation?
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Despite the fact that 2010 tied for the warmest year on record, President Obama made no mention of Global Climate Change in his January 25th State of the Union remarks. That wasn't a surprise; last summer an attempt to fashion a bipartisan Climate Change bill floundered in the Senate and since then prospects for Congressional action have dwindled. Global Climate Change hasn't gone away, but the political will to take action has disappeared. Why? What can you and I do about this tragic situation?

Early in January the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2010 had tied 2005 as the warmest year. The world saw many indications of this: global snow cover was the lowest on record; there were horrendous forest fires in Russia; and much of Pakistan flooded. Nonetheless, the peril of Global Climate Change does not command public attention. In the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll respondents overwhelmingly (43 percent) saw Congress' top priority as Job Creation, followed by Healthcare (18 percent), the Federal budget deficit (14 percent), Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (12 percent), and Illegal Immigration (7 percent), Something else (3 percent), and Unsure (3 percent). There was no mention of Global Climate Change in this and similar polls.

Given the seriousness of the problem it's curious that the American voting public has lost interest in Global Climate Change. One possible explanation is the economic crisis; perhaps Americans are so concerned about their jobs, homes, and savings they don't have the energy to worry about mammoth snowstorms and hurricanes. Another explanation may be the contrast between a bad economy that touches folks in every community and Global Climate Change whose impact, at present, seems restricted to particular geographical areas.

Sadly, the likely explanation is that many Americans have changed their minds about the seriousness of the problem. In October of 2010, the Pew Research Center presented their latest poll regarding Opinions About Global Warming. Over the past five years public concern about the problem has lessened; whereas, in 2006, 79 percent of respondents said there was "solid evidence the earth is warming", in 2010 only 59 percent shared this opinion and 32 percent denied there was any evidence. In 2010, asked whether global warming was a problem requiring immediate governmental action, 46 percent of respondents said yes but 29 answered no and another 21 percent that they either didn't believe it was a problem or didn't know. Finally, the Pew study asked: "Do Scientists agree that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity?" and the respondents split: 44 percent said yes and another 44 percent answered no.

Given that 97 percent of scientists believe the earth is getting warmer because of human activity, it's startling that so many Americans don't believe that Global Climate Change is a serious problem. What explains this troubling finding?

2006 saw the debut of An Inconvenient Truth the Al Gore movie that educated Americans about the perils of Global Climate Change. At the end of that year, 79 percent of Americans felt there was "solid evidence the earth is warming" and 61 percent wanted "immediate government action."

Then an unholy conservative triumvirate got busy. Huge multinational corporations, such as Exxon Mobil teamed with conservative investors such as Charles and David Koch to fund a vast disinformation strategy about Global Climate Change. Conservative media barons, such as Rupert Murdoch saw this as a money-making opportunity. Soon the Fox News Network and hate radio jocks, such as Rush Limbaugh, trumpeted a four-part message: Global Climate Change is an exaggerated peril; climate problems are not man made; Al Gore manufactured the issue to spur his investments in green energy; and there is no scientific consensus on the problem. Then the Republican Party, led by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, made a strategic decision to get on board the gravy train. Today, only 38 percent of Republican voters believe in Global Climate Change and only 24 percent believe government action is needed. Recently, Speaker of the House Boehner remarked, "The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen, that it is harmful to our environment, is almost comical."

Faced with so many reversals, the anti-Global-Climate-Change movement is "rebooting." Nonetheless, you and I can mobilize on two levels. First, we can attack the conditions that produced this tragedy: the undue political influence of wealthy individuals and corporations; the over-the-top partisan rhetoric of the Fox News Network and conservative hate jocks; and the prostitution of the Republican Party.

Second, we must refuse to be discouraged. Global Climate Change is a long-term peril that affects our children and grandchildren. As we search for opportunities to work at the state and local level, we should take heart in the knowledge that each of the historic US human rights campaigns began with a moment when the Federal government was missing in action.

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