Why are Americans Less Concerned about Climate Change?

With the increasing evidence of climate change – glaciers melting, weather patterns changing, and this past decade being the warmest in recorded history – why is it that recent polls show less Americans believe climate change is already happening or will have any serious impact then they did a year ago? While more believe that the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated and is not a significant threat. What is it that has made people less concerned about global warming, and more importantly, why has the US still not implemented any policies to curb climate changing emissions?

Of course, the recession with its unemployment rate continues to affect everyone on a daily and personal basis, upstaging any other threat or concern. Then there was the circus that was health care reform hogging its share of the spotlight. Yet, these themselves should not account for the decline of public awareness, especially in a Democratic and seemingly pro-environment administration. Nor should they account for the disappointment that was Cop15, nor the fact that the latest climate legislation has been postponed and may not pass or that California’s ambitious law to curb emissions, AB32 is at risk.

What really is the culprit is the well orchestrated disinformation campaign by the climate change skeptics, or rather the contrarians, who, for the past thirty years, have used their wealth of resources and funding, primarily by the fossil fuel industry, to create and maintain a sense of debate and uncertainty about climate change.

Ever since the mid 1970s, after the Ice Age scare, climatologists began warning that an increase in atmospheric CO2 might very well warm the planet and change the climate, thereby threatening food sources worldwide and a host of other potential catastrophes. Alarmed by these warnings, in 1979 the last great environmental president, Jimmy Carter -who put solar panels on the White House (that were taken down by Ronald Reagan) – commissioned the Charney panel to investigate those claims. Their findings? “That if carbon dioxide continues to increase,” they, “find no reason to doubt that climate change will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible.”

A decade later, in 1988, during an extreme heat wave, Dr. James Hansen testified in a Congressional hearing: “The greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” In addition, he was, “99 percent certain that the warming trend was not a natural variation but caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere.” Two years later, during the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day, the 1990s was declared the “Green Decade…”

2009 was, declared contrarian extraordinaire Sen. James Inhofe, the “Year of the Climate Skeptic” and with the fall-out from the alleged Climategate, he may just be correct – at least in the United States. For now, with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day now behind us and as the contrarians gear up for their 4th international conference on climate change, we as a nation still find ourselves under their spell, spun by those who have a vested interest in maintaining business as usual. Not only has public interest declined, but the United States is still awaiting significant climate legislation, with the proposed solutions seen as “industry friendly” options like “clean coal,” nuclear energy, and an increase in offshore drilling. Meanwhile, China has taken the lead in developing clean energy. .

However, there is hope on an international scale. Last week nearly 130 nations have gathered in Bolivia for the “People’s World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights” to express their concerns and draft proposals for the COP16 climate summit later this year in Mexico. Perhaps they can give voice to the issues that here in the States seem to be easily debated and disputed with the extensive resources of the contrarian – a.k.a. industry – front.

Regardless, it is imperative, especially as the mid-term election season begins, that the skeptics, with their tactics and arguments, be exposed for what they are. Not just contrarians or deniers, but industry funded shills and their followers, who do not want to or  are unable to accept the fact that our consumption and energy habits have taken a toll on the natural world. A toll that threatens the planet as we now know it and all its inhabitants.

Gwenn Morreale
Gwenn Morreale
Gwenn grew up on the campus of Bard College in a small town made famous by Steely Dan in the Hudson Valley. A nature girl her entire life, she was definitely inspired by Pete Seeger and the Clearwater, and was lucky enough as a high school intern to sail on the sloop for an entire week. She holds a M.A. in Media Ecology/Communications from New York University where she wrote her thesis on the contrarian’s use of propaganda to create a debate about climate change. For the past four years, she has been developing outreach campaigns, and researching and writing about climate change and energy efficiency. Prior to this, she has worked in the entertainment industry developing documentaries, and managing a plethora of film, television and theatrical productions in New York and Los Angeles. Currently she resides in Los Angeles and is developing websites and video projects, and researching and writing about environmental issues, for the Sierra Club and the Shadowland Foundation.

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  1. its completely stupid how popular culture has dropped awarness by the level that it has. whether or not people decide to act is one thing, but the number of people that even comprehend that if you don’t have a phd in climatology, and every scientist not on Glenn Beck’s show have proven it is real, then it more than likely is.

  2. Gwenn’s, analysis, as usual is on the money. I would like to add that what holds people back from making meaningful change is the same force that led George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to allow slavery to continue after the so called “War for Independence.” Self-interest and short-sightedness that ignores the calamity that will beset future generations. I suggest this article be sent directly to the White House with the suggestion that the first intelligent act be to replace Carter’s solar panels as a clarion acknowledgment that the administration will not be cowed by “patriots” committed to filling their own pockets while bringing down the world.


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