Global warming: Why public concern declines
On eve of the global warming summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, an informal global survey shows that public interest in the issue is waning. But many people are taking individual steps to curb global warming.
It's a classic Kodachrome day in Orange Beach, Ala. Cerulean skies contrast against a dazzling white shoreline dotted with rainbow-hued beach umbrellas. Jenna Rutledge slides flip-flops from her feet and wedges her toes beneath the cool sand. Bliss. In fact, only one thing seems odd about this technicolor tableau: That it is so balmy on this November day, even along the Gulf Coast.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Rutledge, like many people, attributes the lingering summer weather to global warming. But the more she listens to environmental pundits, the more perplexed she becomes.
"I don't know who to trust," she says, tucking a magazine into a canvas tote bag. "You hear evidence that seems to back global warming, but then you hear it's a cyclical thing the earth goes through."
Welcome to public attitudes in this year of Mother Earth, circa late 2009. As the US and other nations prepare for a global summit on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 7-18, the biggest problem facing delegates may not be all the political differences between rich nations and poor, between developed countries and developing ones, between big smokestack nations and lesser ones.
It might be waning public attitudes about climate change worldwide.
True, people in most countries believe there is some kind of problem with Earth's thermostat. Gone are the days when many people thought global warming was the delusion of a few Cassandra greenies who lived in recycled rubber-tire houses, their Priuses parked out front.
Instead, the questions today usually revolve more around: Just how bad is the problem and how far should nations go in trying to curb it? On those issues, consensus is elusive, as will likely be evidenced over the next 10 days in Copenhagen, where getting all the nations to sign on to a new protocol seems dead even before the summit begins.
All this is why public attitudes about the problem are so important. Scientists continue to amass evidence showing that global warming is one of the most pressing problems to ever confront humankind. Former Vice President Al Gore, in his latest book timed exquisitely for Copenhagen and commercial success, argues that climate change is more than an environmental pandemic: It's a profound moral issue that this generation has a sacred obligation to solve for succeeding ones.
If the disparate nations of the world are ever going to unite on a solution, it may require a nudge from the public. Or even a swift kick with a pair of eco-friendly boots. Yet the question underneath persists: How do you keep the world engaged in a problem that will unfold over decades and even centuries?
JIA JIFENG, A FURNITURE SALESMAN IN BEIJING, doesn’t need to wait for a calved iceberg to float down from the top of the earth to know global warming is something to take seriously. He has watched as typhoons, floods, and droughts have brought home the reality that something different is going on with the weather. “The climate is very closely related to our lives,” he says. “We get extreme weather much more frequently than before.”
In China, the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, people increasingly worry about the proper balance between two intertwined forces – a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Zhang Lianchao, wrapped up against an unseasonable snowstorm in Beijing, is one of them.