We Need to Save the Earth

Two months after Copenhagen, things on the global warming front are in a downward spiral.

At the summit meeting itself, nations failed to agree on binding commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And the resignation a few days ago of the main U.N. person dealing with climate change is yet another blow. Yvo de Boer departed mainly out of a feeling of despondency at the state of affairs, according to news reports.

Another top climate change official, Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has come under withering fire and calls for resignation for errors in the panel's research and for the contracts he has secured in recent years for the Indian nonprofit he runs, The Energy Research Institute.

The fact that some errors crept into the IPCC's most recent report (issued in 2007) is embarrassing. And Pachauri should have been more careful about drumming up business for his organization. But to claim that such missteps prove that global warming constitutes a fraud is a hoot. As Pachauri told me when I interviewed him in December 2008: "Thousands of people are part of what some of these people say is a conspiracy? My God! This is a conspiracy on a scale that's absolutely astounding!"

Scientific organizations have come out with recent statements reaffirming that global warming is very much a reality.

"Over the last few months, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been attacked for minor errors in its sprawling 2007 report on climate change," says a Feb. 10 press release by the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Overall, the IPCC's conclusions remain indisputable: Climate change is happening now and human activity is causing it. Nations around the world will have to adapt to at least some climate change, including sea level rise, changes in precipitation, disruptions to agriculture, and species extinctions."

But minor scientific details haven't stopped climate change deniers from seizing the moment. Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming has called for Pachauri's resignation and an independent panel to investigate his organization. And the Utah House earlier this month passed a resolution questioning global warming, as Terry Tempest Williams reveals in our coming issue.

Such know-nothings draw sustenance from a deep distrust of basic science in the United States, including on climate change.

"It is a skepticism that stands in contrast with prevailing views in Europe and has been linked to the influence of U.S. talk radio, the 'oil lobby,' an enduring love affair with cars, and a history founded on limiting the role of government," reports Reuters. "Science can be controversial in a country where evangelical Christians make up a quarter of the adult population. Many, for example, doubt the theory of evolution because they believe it contradicts the Bible."

So, only 43 percent of Americans believe that global warming is caused due to human activity, and only 44 percent believe it to be a "very serious problem" versus 90 percent of Brazilians, 68 percent of the French and 65 percent of the Japanese population. The result? Widespread opposition even to the inadequate climate change cap and trade bill still stuck in the Senate.

If only the threat facing us weren't so serious.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.