On November 13, 2012, The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reported that 88 percent of Americans now say they support action on climate change, even if it imposes economic costs. This is a huge change of heart for the American public compared to just a few years ago.
Why the sudden change? According to an article in Psychology Today, “Why America Changed Its Mind on Global Warming”: “People's perceptions of global warming shifted markedly, because the issue came to affect them intimately and locally. In the process, climate change ceased to be cerebral, wonky, and scientific — and became up close and personal.”
Raging forest fires, massive hurricanes and other recent weather calamities have certainly caught America’s attention, as did President Obama in his September 6 Democratic National Convention acceptance speech when he mentioned, "More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future. And in this election, you can do something about it." Climate change is no longer an issue associated with a polar bear on a remote melting iceberg. It’s here — in our own backyard.
During the recent elections, however, we heard that many politicians and people have chosen to accept the existence of climate change, but not assign the cause to humans. The hole in this logic — adopting only part of the science that stems from the same research — may take longer to fill. But it is also starting to happening: In an op-ed in July’s New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic,” noted climate denier Richard Muller made that final leap:
Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
His change in mindset was “the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project,” which he founded with his daughter. To read the five scientific papers Muller and his team of scientists created visit BerkeleyEarth.org, where he admits the attribution to humans and carbon dioxide “gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried.”
It’s encouraging that Americans are willing to change perspective, but understanding the research behind climate change can be challenging. That’s why a film such as Chasing Ice (Mountainfilm in Telluride 2012) is so important. It is touring the country now, educating and leaving an impact, as can be seen in this video of a Bill O’Reilly fan and climate change disbeliever after a screening. Online research, with reputable sources, such as the National Climate Data Center is another option to get your head around the complicated subject. After all, it’s one thing to support something, but as Richard Muller shows, it’s another to really understand the science behind it.