Nicholas Goldberg: Americans don’t care about climate change. Here’s how to wake them up
This story is part of the Slate Political Science Column, a group series alerting readers to research and arguments on the issues shaping politics and policy. If you’d like to suggest a column for inclusion in the series, email [email protected].
When I began writing about climate change in 2007, few Americans had any idea of what was happening on the ground. The earth was cooling, glaciers were melting and the Arctic was ice-free for the first time in hundreds of years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced in 2007 that we were in a period of “hiatus,” a cooling period in Earth’s atmosphere that would last perhaps one to 30 years, depending on natural changes.
Today, Americans know full well that climate change is real — and humans are having an alarming impact on it. Americans are generally in agreement with the scientific consensus on climate change, and many have accepted the need for climate remedies.
But Americans seem to have a very low level of awareness about what the climate does to people, the environment and our planet. At the same time, most Americans are not persuaded that climate change threatens our nation’s health and well-being.
The public is also very unlikely to accept that the United States can do much to address climate change. At times, it appears that the government is going in the other direction and trying to regulate industry or limit the amount of pollution from new or existing sources. In other cases, the government seems determined to deny climate change outright.
How did this happen?
I’ll start with the first issue — how our leaders failed to get Americans to take climate change seriously. When the United States began to look seriously at climate change, there were more important global, national and political priorities.
Today, we are just starting to see the impact climate change is having on our environment. Many of us have watched species and ecosystems change before our eyes as temperatures have risen and glaciers have receded. We know that more extreme weather will inevitably result if we do not take dramatic action now.
Many of our politicians, however, seem to have failed to grasp the urgency of the situation but have used the time since the 2007