Yet another poll is out that details one more time how far American opinion on climate change is moving in the wrong direction.

Since July 2006, the percentage of Americans who think “there is solid evidence the earth is warming” has dropped from 79% to 59%, and the overall portion blaming it on human activity dropped from 50% to 34%. The percentage who think it’s a problem requiring “immediate government action” (a.k.a. the only question on the whole survey that matters to politicians) slid from 61% to 46%.

“But, but… it’s the lousy economy!” I can hear some of you thinking. Surely that did play a part in some of the results, but how could it account for the fact that equal portions of Americans (44% each) think scientists do or don’t agree that human activity is responsible for warming?

There are times when the picture I keep handy of my three nieces is the only thing that keeps me from saying, “Screw it. Things won’t get too awful until after I’m pushing up daisies. Let’s go buy a power boat and go tooling around Lake Ontario while America’s marching morons do their best to drive humanity off a cliff.”

Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The right wing infinite-echo media chamber (Fox, Limbaugh, et al.) leaps to mind, as do the hair splitting, middle-of-the-roaders in the media — and if you read this site you can provide your own list of the latter group — who cower in the nearest closet and practically wet themselves if someone suggests they’re being “alarmist” or “shrill”. At the root of it is all our friends in the fossil fuel industry who distribute money with a mountain-top-removal-size steam shovel to influence politicians and anyone and everyone else who’s for sale. None of this is news, especially to you, dear readers.

And don’t think for a nanosecond that I’m overlooking the staggering ineptitude on “our side”, thanks to the blundering communication failures of everyone from the true experts, the climate scientists, all the way down the information food chain to mere bloggers like me. As I’ve said in some private conversations recently, we have both morality and the facts on our side, and we’re still getting our brains beat in by the liars and deceivers. I’d bet that even without the mountain of fossil fuel cash supporting the deniers[1] we’d still find a way to lose the public relations war for the votes and consumption patterns of the American public.

The reason “our side” is so pathetic is very simple: We have no structure, no leadership, no plan, just a quaint and thoroughly misplaced belief that putting the facts out there will eventually win the day. If the stakes weren’t so high it would almost be endearing, like watching a little girl put on her mother’s clothes and play at being all grown up. Instead, we’re screwing up badly and making it laughably easy for the ideologically and financially driven deniers to turn that little girl’s future into a decades-long, nightmarish struggle against drought and drought-induced food shortages, among other horrors.

Some people are connecting the dots between climate change and other great challenges the US faced in terms of changing our world view, including the link between smoking and cancer, and the greatest one of them all, slavery. I don’t find such comparisons comforting in the least. The smoking example shows how long a determined industry can drag out the process of achieving needed changes in public policy, at the cost of thousands of lives. And slavery? Nearly a century and a half since the US Civil War we’re still feeling the echoes of that era warp our politics and daily lives via racism. Does anyone here think that forcing a large segment of the US to accept the changes needed to decarbonize our economy, regardless of benefits such as green jobs and lower health care costs, will be easy? Neither do I, and it’s one reason why I, along with some people I speak with on a regular basis, have concluded that this is a generational issue, and those of us who are (supposedly) adults are collectively nearly useless. If we could find a way to make the physics of the Earth System wait 15 or 20 years while today’s kids grow up, that would be quite convenient, I suppose.

As for the much shorter term, see Chris Mooney’s thoughts about “Restoring Science to Its Rightful Place”: Where It All Went Wrong. He’s not optimistic about what lies ahead for US policy and science in the next couple of years. My biggest complaint with his article is that I can’t refute any of it. If anything, I’d say he’s optimistic. I’ve concluded that we’re tumbling full speed into a bizarre and mutually reinforcing two-part phenomenon, with both parts being escalations of trends that have been in place for some time. The first part is the politicization of science, particularly in the form of ever more overt and brazen attacks on scientists. As Mooney points out, prepare for Congressional hearings, and I would also expect attempts to cut funding plus endless, baseless, head-spinning rhetorical attacks from any Republican or “Centrist Democrat”) in front of a TV camera or microphone.

The second part is the continuing erection of America’s reality distortion field. I’ve called this The Age of the Red Queen, because so many of us are now choosing to believe (at least) six impossible things before breakfast every day. From the insane Tea Party nonsense I see in letters to the editor and lawn signs (”ABOLISH NY STATE GOVERNMENT” reads one example just a few blocks from my house) to the utter rejection of established science in several fields, a broad swath of the American public is putting this country, and possibly the world, on a collision course with the universe’ infinite indifference to our needs, wants, and desires. So far, the universe is undefeated in such contests, and I don’t expect that pattern to change this time, either.

[1] Please read carefully. I did not say that every single denier was getting paid by Big Coal and Big Oil. I’m referring here to the money that goes into the so-called right wing think tanks, plus political contributions (for which, read “advance payment for services to be rendered”, which is so much more tactful than leaving the cash on the nightstand).


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