Alarm Clocks

When it comes to attitudes about climate change, seeing really is believing. The death and destruction left in Hurricane Katrina’s wake prompted public opinion about the reality of global warming to spike (the percent of Americans who believe it’s happening stands at about 85), not to mention concerns that we might actually see the effects of climate change in our lifetimes—instead of way off in the far distant future.

Yesterday, Pew released a new study that shows Americans’ climate concerns are on the rise again. This is likely due in part to all kinds of crazy weather we’ve been seeing lately. From The Independent:

There has been a double-digit increase in the proportion of Americans who say environmental problems are a major global threat – from 23 per cent to 37 per cent [since 2002], according to a comprehensive survey published this week by the Pew Center in Washington.

The environment is increasingly in the news in the US, thanks to violent and unusual weather patterns – mainly floods and severe drought – combined with the rising cost of petrol. The past few days have seen dramatic rainfall across the southern states. More than a foot of rain fell across central Texas and Oklahoma yesterday, with more storms predicted.

  • Extreme weather is perhaps the most audible among the chorus of alarm bells sounding on a regular basis. Just as weather gets weirder and weirder, more and more common are reports like the one released this week by The Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University of Alaska Anchorage (pdf) that predicts how much damage Alaska—which is currently experiencing forest fires—would suffer from higher temperatures, melting permafrost, reduced polar ice and increased flooding. Road and rail infrastructure costs, in particular, could increase up to 20 percent—that’s billions of dollars in the next 20 years—due to severe damage in areas where permafrost is melting.

    There are plenty of wake-up calls. But concern about the climate is still sharply lower in the US than in any other advanced industrial country, with the exception of the UK. In the rest of the western world, large majorities view global warming as a far more serious problem—ranging from 57 per cent in Italy to 70 per cent in Spain.

    Pew found that Chinese citizens are far more likely than their American counterparts to say environmental problems are a major danger (70 percent versus 37 percent)—this gap is likely due to the fact that in today’s China unlike most of the US, many water sources are tainted with toxins and the air people breath is visibly polluted.

    Again, seeing is believing.