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Jul 23, 2009

This should be the year when we get serious about climate change. Or is it?

By Alan Stoga

After decades of speculation and denial, the stars seemed finally to be aligned for real progress on the climate.

We have a president who says he is committed to looking at the issue through the prism of science, not politics, and making hard choices. A Nobel Prize-winning energy secretary who declares that “global warming is the greatest challenge facing science.” A House of Representatives that has already passed landmark energy legislation. A multinational negotiation that is supposed to produce a new global climate pact by the end of the year.

Now add the most recent news from the global scientific community in the form of a 39-page report summarizing the results of the Climate Change Congress held in March.Their overarching conclusion is that the world is heating up even faster than they thought a couple of years ago, with increasingly dramatic changes in climate as well as weather all but inevitable.

So, we should be firmly on track to make dramatic changes in how we produce and consume energy, making tough trade-offs between consumption today and survival tomorrow. Right?

Unfortunately, a funny thing seems to be happening on the way to a sustainable future. Even as the scientific community moves toward an increasingly strong consensus about the seriousness and immediacy of climate change and the political class is finally taking the issue seriously, ordinary Americans seem to be heading in the opposite direction.

Pew reports that 70 percent of American scientists consider global warming to be “very serious,” but less than half of voters agree. A recent Rasmussen survey is even more damning: twice as many people say the House’s climate change legislation will hurt the economy than say it will help.

That, of course, is the point: it’s the economy, stupid. Wall Street’s newfound euphoria aside, most people are still suffering from the recession and the housing collapse. They are concerned with how to pay bills next month than with melting glaciers, rising seas, or creeping desertification.

With Congress in recess, senators and congressmen are getting an earful from their constituents on health care, budget deficits, taxes and the rest of the business left behind in Washington. There is a real risk that some of President Obama’s signature reforms—including climate change legislation—may disappear as voters push back on activism they don’t think we can afford.

The bad news is that, when it comes to the climate, you can pay now or you can pay later. The bill only goes up.


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