Why the American public isn’t prepared to take the risks on climate change

Why the American public isn't prepared to take the risks on climate change

Nicholas Goldberg: Americans don’t care about climate change. Here’s how to wake them up

Climate change has never been more important. More than a thousand scientists, most from the United States, have signed an open letter calling on world leaders to adopt an internationally-binding climate treaty as soon as possible.

And yet, the United States lags behind the rest of the world in terms of national action at the global level and the public is losing interest, according to polling data published Monday by Gallup.

The Pew Research Center reported in March that only 17 percent of Americans “strongly” back the idea of federal action to reduce carbon emissions, the same percentage as in March 2010. In November, Pew found that public support for federal efforts dropped to 14 percent, one of the lowest of any G-level issue in Gallup’s time series.

That gap seems increasingly large. At a conference on global warming in November, former Vice President Al Gore told a packed auditorium that “the American people are not prepared to take the risks on climate change.”

If the public doesn’t care, why are the United States’ political leaders so reticent about taking on an issue they’ve known about for decades? Why doesn’t the American public support the tough action they need, or even have political leaders ask for it?

The answer is simple, according to two Harvard professors who are calling on the political class and scientists to get more engaged with the issue. Their advice is to make climate change the next public health crisis, and “it cannot wait,” Professors Richard Muller and Robert W. McChesney wrote in Science.

We are at risk of losing the future of our children. But, they say, we can and must face the truth about what is happening and what can be done about it.

“The time for denial is over,” they write. “It is now, we must acknowledge the problem, act, and make the transition to a low-carbon tomorrow.”

This is your science project, as an American. It’s time to figure out how to tackle the challenge of climate change — and to win the future of our children.

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