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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.

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An April Gallup poll found that only small minorities in many African countries have heard about global warming. In contrast with 99 percent of those polled in Japan and 97 percent in the US, for example, only 31 percent of South Africans knew something about global warming, 30 percent of Rwandans, 26 percent of Ghanians, and 15 percent of Liberians.

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The effects of global warming are likely to hit India – with its 1.1 billion-plus people – harder than many other places. But there, too, most urban residents aren't well-schooled on the issue.

As global warming occurs, many experts say that the crucial monsoon could become increasingly unreliable. The summer rains were the lightest in years. And the Himalayan glaciers, which feed India's three great rivers, are melting. This means worse flooding in eastern India, and, if the glaciers disappear, much less water flow.

"The monsoon has also become completely unpredictable," says Souvik Mukherjee, a farmer in Patiala, in the Punjab region. "When you desperately need water, there is no rainfall, and when the crops are ready and a drop could harm the paddy, there will be heavy showers, completely ruining our crops."

For many people, personal experience is the most concrete evidence that something is awry with Earth's thermometer.

"When I was a primary school student, it used to be much colder in December than it is [now]," says Tadashi Hashimoto, a retired construction executive in Tokyo. "I remember we had to wear heavy winter clothing back then. But in recent years, we have not seen snow, even in winter."

Julie O'Neill, a doctor from Burton Joyce, a village in the English Midlands, remembers the incessant rains in her area in 2007 that triggered flash flooding.

"I think it's inevitable that people draw a connection between their own experiences and climate change when flooding like that happens," Ms. O'Neill says. "The depressing thing, though, is that even after that, most people seem to think that someone else will do something about it."

"What we need and what we want are not the same," he says. "I find there are some things that are just not necessary, that I don't have to have."

Chloe Lewis, an actress in South London, typifies a young generation of environmentally aware Britons trying to reduce their carbon footprints. She grows many of her own vegetables, including tomatoes, basil, and arugula, and rarely travels by plane anymore. "In the last three years, I've only made one flight and always take public transport," she says.

The British in general seem to take a warming planet seriously. Bob Ward, a climate change expert at the London School of Economics, says as many as 80 percent of the British people are willing to cut their carbon emissions. "The majority of people accept that climate change is happening," he says. "But the big problem is lack of information about how to act."

While the world tries to figure that out, Jenna Rutledge, on the beach in Alabama, will simply enjoy this year's Indian summer: She's content to keep her toes buried in the sand a bit longer.

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