Global Warming, Barack Obama, and Everyone Else

Americans are less concerned about global warming today than they were a year ago.

Naw, that can't be right. Where's my glasses?

Americans are less concerned about global warming today than they were a year ago.

Impossible. Another cup of coffee and I'll get right back to you.

Americans are less concerned about global warming today than they were a year ago.

According to a new worldwide study by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. the percentage of Americans who think global warming is a "very serious problem" dropped 5% over the last year, from 47% in 2007 to 42% today.

What's more, of the 24 countries surveyed, Americans rank fourth from last on concern over global warming. Only the citizens of China, Jordan, and Egypt are less informed. It is no surprise the Chinese are poorly informed, as their access to news and information is among the most restricted in the world. Jordan and Egypt are hardly bastions of free press either. Moreover, they are deserts. And their populations don't emit much carbon into the atmosphere (Jordan is ranked 99th in carbon emissions per capita, Egypt 113th).

What is America's excuse?

Did some new study suggest that situation might not be as dire as we thought?

Actually, over the last 12 months evidence has continued to pile up suggesting that the "worst case" scenarios climate scientists have been describing in recent years were not nearly dire enough to describe changes now underway that we can just walk out the door and see for ourselves. Leading a long list of such sights was, the precipitous decline of Arctic sea ice in the summer of 2007. A picture tells more than a thousand words, and this is what climate researcher found at the north pole last summer:


This observational data led NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally to proclaim, "The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming. The canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines."

What me worry?

Which leads us to another startling observation: as opposed to China, Jordan, and Egypt, the United States is where much (though hardly all) of the best research on climate change is being done. Most research/least informed public. Huh?

But here is an even more stark juxtaposition: this last 12 months in which Americans' concern over global warming has fallen was also the period in which Americans' participation in the political process reached a high point unequaled in many decades. This was the period in which an unprecedented 36 million-plus voted in a Democratic primary. In which Democratic Party candidates spent a half a billion dollars to "get their message out" to the American public.

The sad truth is that the urgency of global climate change, far and above the most pressing issue confronting Americans and indeed the entire world, was simply not part of that message.

Yes, I know, if you go to Obama's web site there is a position paper on climate change. And yes, I am aware that Obama speaks occasionally to this issue. But in general he does so briefly and only when asked. Look through YouTube, Google and Obama's on web sites, and you will find that most of Obama's references to global warming happened way early on, even before Iowa and New Hampshire, and have steadily decreased since.

But really we don't need to go back over all of that, because the fact that Americans' concern for global warming has decreased during the electoral campaign trumps all: whatever the candidates have been saying and doing, it is clearly not enough.

Barack Obama now has a microphone of unprecedented volume. He is addressing crowds of tens of thousands, 75,000 at one event alone. They hang on his every word. His entire come-on is based on the end of politics as usual, on "change we can believe in." He has won the nomination. His opponent, remarkably, is exceptionally informed on global warming as Republicans go. It is time - no, it is long past time - for global warming to become a major campaign theme.

One thing that has hampered the discussion of global warming in our public square is that it is hard to imagine a mobilization of the public on the scale that would be required to deal with it in any real way. Incredibly, Obama now is in a position to do what has seemed impossible. With his piles of cash, a donor base of 1.5 million, a much larger email list , and organizers on the ground everywhere, Obama could lead on this issue in a way I could have scarcely imagined not so long ago. But to do it he will have to integrate the issue into his campaign in a very different way. Not as an afterthought but a main thought.

Yes We Can! Can what? Can deal with global warming? Better start now.

So where is global warming?