Shift on climate change explained

opinions

May 26, 2010 - 12:00 AM

A funny thing is happening on the way to the future. More and more scientists believe that climate change is under way and people are causing it. At the same time, more and more in the general public doubt this is true and don’t want to spend any money to turn greener.
Last week the National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences, issued three reports describing how the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation were changing the world’s climate. The scientists, usually content with stating facts and the conclusions they lead to, said the “case for a harmful human influence on the global climate is overwhelming.”
Strong immediate ac-tion should be taken, the reports urged, to limit emissions of climate-altering gases in the United States and throughout the world.
This unusually forceful advice coincided with public opinion polls showing that nearly half of the American and British public doubt that scientists know whereof they speak.
A February survey in England showed that only 26 percent believed “that climate change is happening and is now established as largely manmade.” Last November, 46 percent agreed with the statement. A March poll in the United States found that 48 percent of Americans believe the seriousness of global warming was “generally exaggerated.” That was up from 41 percent a year ago.
Global warming and other climate changes an overwhelming number of scientists now confidently predict aren’t like tornados, earthquakes and tsunamis. The process is gradual.
But it also is irreversible, relative to the lifetimes of humans. So maybe the skeptics conclude that because it didn’t happen yesterday, it won’t happen at all.
In addition to lack of immediacy, there is the impact of the recession and gnawing worries about the world’s economy. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions has a cost. Developing alternative fuels is expensive. The cap and trade bill in the energy bill languishing in Congress is as-sailed as an unaffordable job killer.
Economic worries have become a reason for downgrading the fight against global warming. But rather than say that they don’t want to spend money to forestall the effects of climate change in the future, more and more of us just decide not to believe the science. By not believing, there is no guilt for not acting.
Human beings are interesting.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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