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Public Opinion and Global Warming

Gallup has released its annual poll on Americans’ attitudes toward environmental issues. The results show a continued decline in the concern over the reality or impact of global warming. Almost half of those polled think the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.

My response to this and to most polls is "Who cares?" The average American could not name the last 10 presidents if you put a gun to his head. They may know who their local Congressman is and maybe could name one of their senators. They have less of an idea about their state legislators.

So again, why do we care what the average Joe thinks about a complex problem like global warming and the resulting climate change it spawns. Well, because the average legislator is no smarter than the citizens he or she represents, but they are smart enough to know which way the political wind blows.

So perceptions do matter in that they weaken the political resolve to deal with a difficult and complex issue like climate change. Better to go around shouting "Jobs, jobs, jobs" so you at least look like you have a clue about what people are worried about. Why lead when it is much safer to follow.

In fairness, people are probably right to be more worried about the economic immediate fire that is burning down their house as opposed to the long slow burn of global warming that will eventually force them to change their entire life style somewhere down the line.

Add to this the blunders by those who advocate doing something and the ever-growing chorus of denial and doubt that is saturating the blogosphere – if you don’t believe me just go to YouTube and search on "global warming" – and it is no wonder that public concerns over global warming are fading.

Unfortunately, what people think is happening has only the most tenuous connection to what is actually happening. The natural world cares not about the latest poll. It just reacts to what it sees in front of it. If you don’t believe me, just look at all the animals that are voting with their feet, all the plants that are seeking higher ground.

This essay first appeared in PlanetRestart.org.

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