As U.S. President Joe Biden heads to the United Nations Climate Summit in Scotland, the damage we human beings have done to our planet and to the stability of the climate that sustains us all is top of mind. Frankly, we’ve made a mess of it.
As it turns out, according to a recent Associated Press story, it appears a whole lot of us now know this. In fact, a majority of Americans regard the deteriorating climate as a problem of high importance to them, an increase from just a few years ago.
According to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, six out of 10 Americans also believe that the pace of global warming is speeding up; 59 percent of Americans said the earth’s warming is very or extremely important to them as an issue, up from 49 percent in 2018.
Surely the past few “year-after-year” 500-year storms, unprecedented extreme weather from wildfires to droughts to hurricanes, to disappearing shorelines and historic polar ice melt has accumulated enough to make people believe what they are witnessing in real-time.
Fifty-four percent of Americans cited scientists’ voices as having a large amount of influence on their views about climate change, and nearly as many, 51 percent, said the influence of recent extreme weather events like hurricanes, deadly heat spells, wildfires, and other natural disasters around the world have convinced them.
But while the rest of the world with few exceptions can see this and all of us are experiencing it, politics is dragging down a coordinated response. While Democrat Joe Manchin, a coal-state Senator from West Virginia, has basically killed off Biden’s significant climate legislation (originally in the Build Back Better legislation) ahead of next week’s U.N. climate summit, the new AP-NORC/EPIC poll also shows that 55 percent of Americans want Congress to pass a bill to ensure that more of the nation’s electricity comes from clean energy and less from climate-damaging coal and natural gas.
A stoic 16 percent of Americans oppose such a measure for electricity from cleaner energy — who appear to believe that our finite resources of coal and oil are going to last forever and that these fossil fuels aren’t damaging the environment (there are whale oil stories that could be mentioned here). But it appears that Manchin’s objections have left the significant climate initiatives out of that bill; once again demonstrating that a minority opinion can and often does override a clear majority of Americans’ wishes.
We haven’t much time.
According to the 2021 United National Climate Report, changes to the global climate are intensifying rapidly. The abundance of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere once again reached a new record in 2020, with the annual rate of increase above the 2011-2020 average. That trend has continued in 2021, according to the latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. The concentration of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, reached 413.2 parts per million in 2020 and is 149 percent of the pre-industrial level. Methane is 262 percent of the level in 1750 when human activities started disrupting the Earth’s natural equilibrium.
In the last 60 years, the pollution pumped out by gasoline and diesel engines, power plants and other sources has changed the climate. The earth has warmed by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit, making the extremes of weather more extreme. Moderate areas of the globe such as Europe are now regularly experiencing massive flooding, hurricane-strength winds and summer temperatures over 100 degrees F.
The frigid Great Lakes aren’t freezing as soon or as long. Parts of the world that used to have four seasons — now only have two. Disease-ridden insects are migrating north out of the tropics, Alpine plants and animals are clamoring upward to sky islands, where they are running out of land altitude in which to survive.
Mountain snowpack is becoming unreliable, and drying land is soaking up water runoff, impacting our stream flows. Extreme weather events are multiplying as the planet moves beyond the 20th century golden years of relative climate stability.
The average global temperature for the six years since 2015 has been the warmest in recorded history. Rising global temperatures are fueling extreme weather throughout the world, impacting economies and societies. The scale of recent changes across the global climate system is unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.
What to do about our Climate Crisis
The answer is to reduce our carbon footprint, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. Many climate experts say we have nine years left, until 2030, before we begin to hit a tipping point from which there may be no return.
But first, the answer is to get Americans to overwhelmingly believe that this is happening. According to the poll, it appears they do. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say climate change is happening, but majorities of both parties agree that it is: 89 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans do.
Second, Americans appear willing to ante up to pay for the cost of cutting down the pollution that is destroying our climate. In the survey, fifty-two percent said they would support a $1 a month carbon fee on their energy bill to fight climate change. Raise that level though, and they get squeamish about fee increases.
Do the math: $1/month times 330 million Americans equals three billion 960 million dollars to put toward saving our part of the planet each year. Seems a small price to pay for the air we breathe and the land we walk on. But it probably isn’t nearly enough for the mess that humans have created.
Editor’s Note: The AP-NORC poll of 5,468 adults was conducted Sept. 8-24 using a combined sample of interviews from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population, and interviews from opt-in online panels. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 1.7 percentage points. The AmeriSpeak panel is recruited randomly using address-based sampling methods, and respondents later were interviewed online or by phone.
Featured image: Planet earth solar eclipse on May 10, 2021