(MintPress)–Just 34 percent of Americans believe that climate change is a result of human activity, according to a recent Gallup poll. Most Americans do believe in global warming, the poll indicated, but doubt that its cause is an issue of debate, with many Republicans expressing the highest amount of doubt over its causes being man-made. The issue has taken on a very political dimension, especially since candidates in this year’s presidential election are expressing markedly different opinions on the problem, and what should be done to solve it.
According to the survey
Since 2009, the survey indicated that two-thirds of Republicans have continued to say global warming news is exaggerated, while independents’ skepticism has eased slightly, as has Democrats.
The issue does have political – not just scientific – dimensions. As the Gallup study pointed out, “One of the more contentious battles in the politics of global warming involves the perceived scientific consensus. Those promoting global warming as a serious problem have declared the issue settled, arguing there is no serious scientific claim against the evidence for man-made climate change. Global warming skeptics point to scientific dissenters and try to debunk predictions of catastrophic consequences of global warming made by some, while promoting the more benign effects described by others.”
Bad news not welcome
So why do people insist on doubting climate change and debating its origins?
As Lynn Thorp, National Campaigns Director for Clean Water Action, a Washington, D.C.- based environmental organization said in an interview with Mint Press, “People do hate to be told something terrible is coming.”
Greenpeace, an international non-profit working on a host of environmental issues, reports that something terrible is happening due to climate change. “The 0.6 degree rise we’ve experienced already kills 150,000 people every year,” the organization says.
And there are more problems being predicted in the future stemming from climate change. “Glaciers, permafrost and sea ice are disappearing. Sea levels are rising, seasons changing and extreme weather becoming more extreme. As temperatures increase further, there will almost inevitably be more flooding, more drought, more disease, more famine and more war, creating hundreds of millions of refugees and causing the destruction of entire ecosystems and species.”
Clean Water Action’s website says science confirms that “global warming is real, present and caused by human activity. The International Panel on Climate Change warns (IPCC) that, without intervention, temperatures may increase more than 10°F by the end of this century. As the world grows hotter, water resources will become scarcer and more seasonal. Increasingly frequent heat waves will be accompanied by intense storms, dangerous floods and severe drought,” and it concludes, “We must act quickly to prevent these worst-case scenarios, and we should begin by rethinking our energy sources.”
“I don’t think that this is the first time in history that people have had to grapple with big threats and handled it in a way that is surprising,” Thorp said. Adding, “We don’t believe global scientific consensus can be debated.”
Still, the Gallup poll also found that Americans’ belief that the media exaggerate the seriousness of global warming rose sharply between 2006 and 2010, which it attributed to a shift in Republicans’ and independents’ views. Democrats also grew a bit more skeptical during this period, but never more than 25 percent held this view.
Thorp said, commenting on reports issued by the IPCC on climate change that “there has never been anything with such a broad and diverse scientific consensus,” adding that there are many members of the scientific community who believe the report may even downplay the magnitude and effects of the problem.
“I can’t explain why people are answering the polls in that way, but we shouldn’t govern by polls,” Thorp commented.
In December 2007, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for measures needed to counteract such change. The award was shared with former Democratic Presidential candidate and U.S. Vice-President Al Gore for his work on climate change and the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Environmental groups seem to favor Democratic candidates, as The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Environment America and Clean Water Action all recently announced they’ll jointly endorse President Obama in his reelection bid, a measure which is overall the earliest any of the groups have issued a presidential endorsement.
And in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama said, “Those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared and concerned about a general lack of sufficient movement to deal with the problem. Frankly, I’m deeply concerned that internationally, we have not made as much progress as we need to make. Within the constraints of this Congress, we’ve tried to do a whole range of things, administratively, that are making a difference – doubling fuel-efficiency standards on cars is going to take a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere. We’re going to continue to push on energy efficiency, and renewable energy standards, and the promotion of green energy. But there is no doubt that we have a lot more work to do.”
Obama also acknowledged the challenge of working to solve the problem of climate change, given large amounts of money being poured into fighting scientific consensus on the topic. “Part of the challenge over these past three years has been that people’s number-one priority is finding a job and paying the mortgage and dealing with high gas prices. In that environment, it’s been easy for the other side to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to debunk climate-change science,” he explained. “I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.”
Thorp recommended specific steps to be taken in order to alleviate the problem, including that “first and foremost, reduce emissions and move away from burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil and moving towards other sources of energy for transportation and electricity” are key in working to counter the problem, but acknowledged that this strategy may be contrary to the interests of some legislators and lobbyists for gas and oil companies.
“We want healthy oil and gas companies, but do they need a handout at a time of record profits?” she asked.
A difference of opinion
Obama seems to be on board with Thorp’s suggestions, “That there’s a way to do it that is entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation – that taking steps, for example, to retrofit buildings all across America with existing technologies will reduce our power usage by 15 or 20 percent. That’s an achievable goal, and we should be getting started now,” he said.
However, Obama has failed to persuade a Democratic Congress to pass limits on carbon emissions, and while he does support ending subsidies to the oil industry, he has also also been unable to persuade Congress to do so.
Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on the the other hand, wants to reduce obstacles to coal, natural gas and nuclear energy development, and accelerate oil drilling permits.
“There’s a real fallacy at work here, this idea that we can’t simultaneously grow our economy and deal with environmental issues… Economists who have studied this say the cost of inaction down the road would be far greater than the cost of action now,” Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center, Penn State University told AlJazeera.
Romney has also said that green power has yet to become viable and the causes of climate change are unknown, according to the Associated Press. He proposes to remove carbon dioxide from a list of pollutants controlled by Clean Air Act and amend clean water and air laws to ensure the cost of complying with regulations is balanced against environmental benefits.
He has also blamed high gas prices on President Obama’s decisions to limit oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas and on overzealous regulation.
Compared to other industrialized nations, nearly half of western Europeans think that humans are responsible for global warming. While in Asia 76 percent say the same.
In Latin America 56 per cent believe similarly.