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Where did global warming go?

Iceberg
credit: Mark Pernice and Scott Altmann

According to this article in the New York Times, belief in anthropogenic climate change has been decreasing in the United States over the last several years.  Between 2006 and 2010, the percentage of Americans who believe in global warming dropped from 79% to 59%.  This has been accompanied by a fading of global warming from the political agenda.  In contrast, many foreign countries are becoming more aggressive in implementing climate policies, making the United States the “one significant outlier” in responding to climate change.  Reasons cited for the United States’ non-aggressive attitude towards climate change legislation include resistance to limits on personal freedoms and comfort, a powerful fossil fuels industry and a cold winter of 2010 that made global warming seem less imminent in the eyes of the public majority.   Perhaps the most important factor contributing to the lack of urgency on climate change has been the deep recession of the last few years which has made economic recovery and job creation the primary focus, essentially putting climate change on the backburner.

In contrast, people in European nations view combating climate change as an opportunity rather than a cost.  The European Union, which has been in a recession of its own, is on target to meet its goal of reducing 1990 emissions by 20% by 2020.  As opposed to the United States where conservatives and Republicans oppose climate change legislation, conservatives in the EU are helping to direct climate policy around the world.  In addition, developing nations such as India and China are now implementing aggressive climate policies as well.  Public concern about the problem is also greater in these countries, as reflected by the 70% of people in China, India and South Korea who would be willing to pay more for energy in order to address climate change.  On the other hand, only 38% of people in the United States would be willing to do the same, reflecting the fact that the issue of global warming is still perceived to be distant in the eyes of most Americans.

Gary Monitz

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