Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Do polls follow pols or vice-versa?


Recent out-of-control wildfires, droughts, floods, crop failures, record-breaking high temperatures and bizarre, unusually severe storms and their consequences, too well-known to need describing here, have once again raised the taboo (to some) topic of human-caused global warming to the surface of public, even political, awareness. Not a day too soon, though in reality it is at least two decades or more too late. If the past is any indication of the future, this present thin awareness will soon vanish like a greenhouse gas into the ever-thinning ozone layer that protects the earth from the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Or, if the ozone or human awareness is too thin, not.

Out of sight, out of mind. Besides, who besides a bunch of politically incorrect, nerdy, smarty-pants scientists in white smocks and sterile laboratories understand an ozone layer, an ozone hole, a greenhouse gas or the significance of the chemical/mineral content of a 20,000-year-old piece of ice drilled from 300 feet beneath the surface of a glacier in Antarctica? What do eggheads know about GNP, OPEC, CIA, FUBAR, NAFTA, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, how to bank in Switzerland or Grand Cayman Island, Super PACS, the brilliance of Sen. James Inofe's (R-Okla.) thinking and leadership, equity-indexed annuities, golden parachutes or the silver bullet of no new taxes? Those IPPC dweebs are totally removed from this real world, the world of having to make a living in the dog-eat-dog marketplace where those who work hard get ahead and those who don't deserve what they get. So what if it's a little warmer and the crops don't grow and a few houses and trees burn to ash? Deal with it. Get a job. Move somewhere else.

Or so it seems when awareness thins.

Human-caused global warming is as real and irrefutable as, say, the influence of Super PAC money (think the Koch brothers) on the thinking and decisions of national, local and international politicians (pols). To meaningfully address the roots of human-caused global warming will, naturally, be more inconvenient than not thinking about it. For those more aggressive, smoke-and-mirror, Obama-was-born-in-Kenya, builders-of-the-Trojan-Horse kind of thinkers who subscribe to Rush Limbaugh's view that the environmental movement is "the new refuge of socialist thinking," to simply sidetrack the truth of an issue with a lie is an acceptable means to avoid inconvenience. But temperatures are not influenced by either denial or dishonesty.


If polls are any indication, Americans' fluctuating awareness of human-caused global warming appears to be a function of the most recent weather. When the weather is good in their region, Americans tend to discount and not think much about the issue. When the weather is bad, more Americans believe that global warming might be a real problem. A series of Yale University studies indicate that 71 percent of Americans believed in global warming in November 2008. By January 2010 that number had dropped to 57 percent. By spring 2012 the number had climbed to 66 percent. Other polls, including one by the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, reveal similar fluctuations in the public's belief in global warming. The Yale survey showed that in 2008, 48 percent believed that "most scientists think that global warming is happening." Four years later only 35 percent held that belief. That is, it is the public that changes its mind about global warming and its causes, not the scientists and certainly not the science.

The best, most reputable and majority of scientists who have been studying the issue have been predicting climate change caused by humans for decades. Because it was out of sight and mind and slow to manifest, their models and predictions were denied, ignored and disparaged by business as usual, which was threatened by the obvious implications, by pols, who do the bidding of their business-as-usual controllers, and by a public that didn't want the inconvenience of thinking too much about the inconvenience of messing with business as usual. It is somewhat disconcerting that weather drives the public's beliefs about climate change, even though scientists' models have predicted those changes for decades. Global warming's relationship with any particular weather event or pattern is probabilistic, not causal.

The polls and public awareness of the inconvenient truth of human-caused global warming will continue to fluctuate as they have been until one of two things happen: 1) The inconvenience of the consequences of human-caused global warming (i.e. enough people lose their homes to wildfires; ranchers can't grow enough hay to feed their horses and cattle; farmers watch too many of their crops wither; derechos in your backyard) become more inconvenient than dealing with the causes of that warming; or 2) pols at the highest level (preferably the president) somehow find the cojones and simple honesty to bring the truth of the matter to the public forum and then to keep it there.

Which do you think will happen first?

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