Two words, more than any others, are apt to set climate-change skeptics' teeth a-grinding: "Al Gore."
The former vice president has been the front man on global warming – winning both an Academy Award and the Nobel Peace Prize last year in the process. The former vice president also refuses to publicly debate the issue with leading skeptics face to face.
" 'We can solve the climate crisis, but it will require a major shift in public opinion and engagement,' Gore said in a statement. 'The technologies exist, but our elected leaders don't yet have the political will to take the bold actions required. When politicians hear the American people calling loud and clear for change, they'll listen,' he said.
But generating that loud and clear vox populi requires a new approach, environmentalists say. As reported in USA Today:
" 'We've come up against a brick wall with Americans,' says Lee Bodner, executive director of ecoAmerica, an environmental group based in Washington, D.C. Despite Americans' widespread familiarity with global warming, 'only a small group are changing their behavior.' "
And as public anxiety grows about other domestic issues – the economy, the housing market, the cost of healthcare – this concern among activists (including Gore) that the issue is not getting the attention it deserves may be well founded.
Compared with Medicare, Social Security, and energy as sources of public apprehension, "Worry about global warming has declined somewhat in the minds of Americans over the past two years," according to a new study by the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress at New York University.
" 'Something's not getting through to the public" about climate change,' says study author Paul Light, a professor at NYU's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. 'You almost need a PhD to understand the cap-and-trade proposals floating around. Most Americans would guess that the term is about baseball, not climate change,' Light says."
Critics pooh-pooh Gore's new campaign as more of the same: alarmist pronouncements and unrealistic or ineffective steps. Steven Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com and a columnist for FoxNews.com, opines in this way:
"On his public relations campaign's website, Gore urges the shuttering of coal-fired power plants, which provide 50 percent of US electricity needs; the adoption of so-called 'clean energy technologies' such as cost-inefficient solar and wind power and hybrid cars; energy efficiency, which only would reduce energy use by marginal amounts; and government mandates for not-ready-for-prime-time taxpayer-subsidized alternative energy sources...., Gore even calls for more sidewalks and bike paths – hardly a technological innovation that will provide measurably more energy with less emissions."
Proponents would counter that there's more to Gore's program and that, in sum, such measures could make a big dent in the greenhouse-gas emissions most scientists say are causing global warming.
Public opinion and the willingness – or unwillingness – to take personal steps to reduce one's "carbon footprint" are at the core of Gore's new effort. Most Americans are aware of and concerned about global warming.
But so far, it seems, there is not a critical mass willing to make major (or even relatively simple) lifestyle changes.
Gore's opponents have answered his PR challenge. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has just launched its own TV and Internet ad campaign "focusing on the threat to affordable energy posed by Al Gore's global warming agenda."
" 'Global warming activists warn us about the alleged threats from global warming, but are usually silent about the much more immediate threats from global warming policies,' said CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman, also the ad's co-creator. 'Restricting access to affordable energy is a sure recipe for increasing poverty, disease, and human misery around the world.'"
Meanwhile, the free-market think tank Heartland Institute keeps needling Gore over what they say is his refusal to publicly debate four prominent global-warming skeptics – Dennis Avery, Chris Horner, Mr. Milloy, and Scottish Peer Lord Christopher Monckton (the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley). "Why Won't Al Gore Debate His Critics?" its ad reads.
Lord Monckton recently lit into Gore over recent trends in global temperatures.
" 'The alarmists are alarmed, the panic mongers are panicking, the scare mongers are scared; the Gores are gored. Why? Because global warming stopped 10 years ago; it hasn't got warmer since 1998,' he points out. 'And in fact in the last seven years, there has been a downturn in global temperatures equivalent on average to about [or] very close to 1 degree Fahrenheit per decade. We're actually in a period ... of global cooling.' "
Such critics may take rhetorical ammunition from reports on this past winter's record cold temperatures and snow levels in some parts of the world, notably China. Scientists say this is due to La Niña ocean currents in the Pacific, which tend to cool the planet.
'When you look at climate change, you should not look at any particular year,' said World Meteorological Organization secretary-general Michel Jarraud. 'You should look at trends over a pretty long period and the trend of temperature globally is still very much indicative of warming.' "