The outlook is not good that world leaders and climate experts gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark, will be able to negotiate stronger controls on emissions that would replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.
Just as the United States, the world's largest emitter, did not sign the 1997 agreement, it won't sign a new agreement either - at least not yet. The climate bill passed through the House of Representatives earlier this fall, but debate in the Senate has been put off until spring as the health care bill has taken center stage.
A major reason work has slowed on climate legislation in the United States - and hopes for a significant global effort have faded - is reflected in a recent Pew poll that shows that fewer and fewer Americans believe there is evidence to support global warming. Between April 2008 and October 2009, the number of people who believed that there was evidence of rising global temperatures fell from 71 percent to 57 percent. Those who attribute warming to human activity fell from 47 percent to 36 percent.
The most alarming part of this survey is that the decline in belief in global warming is similar among all demographics - young and old, college graduates and high school graduates. In other words, this is a systematic, across-the-board trend. Some of the drop in public confidence in the evidence on global warming is also triggered by the downturn in economy.
In recent weeks, some of the disbelievers have been emboldened by the speech of Lord Christopher Monckton, who warned that the United States will relinquish its sovereignty if it signs a climate accord. This inflammatory speech does not recognize the fact that the European countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol did not relinquish their economic sovereignty, but rather have made tremendous advances in green technology. It does not recognize that by signing this treaty, the United States will be in a great position to launch new research projects in the green energy sector; new businesses and industry will flourish here in South Carolina and throughout the United States. What it does do is feed into the disbelief that many want to embrace.
In that sense, it points to the way forward: If we hope to make significant headway in combating global climate change, we must begin with education. In the past two decades, the science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has laid a solid ground work to understanding climate change. However, its reports are a difficult read for the common citizen. Therefore grassroots efforts at promoting climate change education at all levels, from elementary school to graduate level education, are required. A good educational system that can teach not only the scientific but the social, business and economic aspects of climate change would help dispel disinformation propagated by the naysayers.
The science points to many more severe effects of climate changes beyond simple warming and loss of glaciers. There has been an increase in frequency of floods and droughts. Most recently, October rains wiped out soybeans and other agricultural crops in the Mississippi Delta. We have observed more intense and frequent hurricanes and typhoons. There has been a loss of biodiversity: Certain species of plants, insects and animals are no longer existent. There is a lack of adequate fresh water, a loss in fisheries production and desertification of cultivable lands.
The fact that way too much attention is focused on warming, temperature changes and exact numbers and not on the other easily observed facts is a travesty that can be remedied only by education.
The weather in Copenhagen in December is normally chilly and damp. That could also be a good description of the mood at the climate conference.
However, all is not lost. As the proverb tells us, it is always darkest before dawn. With good education on climate change, the youth of today will be the leaders of tomorrow's climate movement.