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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Don’t look now, but reality is winning the climate debate

Don’t look now, but reality is winning the climate debate

Many of the estimates of the long-term effects of climate change focus on outcomes that will be obvious by the year 2100. Climate change isn’t weather change, and the slow warming of the Earth is best measured by changes over decades, not days. That’s been inconvenient for those hoping to draw attention to the issue in an age when attention spans are fleeting and debates are often resolved when one side points to some anecdote as definitive — for example, when a member of the Senate thinks a February snowball somehow rebuts the idea there’s a long-term warming trend.

There are visible effects: rising sea levels, increased precipitation bursts and, of course, the three-year streak of hottest years ever. But one can’t simply point to one thing that happens and say, “That. That’s climate change.” For those disinterested in accepting the scientific consensus on the subject, that’s helpful. A concerted political effort about a decade ago leveraged the public’s uncertainty and our rhetorical habits to effectively blunt policies that would have addressed the issue. That built climate change into a central partisan litmus test. But now, as President Trump figures out how to roll back his predecessor’s efforts on climate policy, something interesting has happened: Gallup polling suggests that Americans have broadly accepted the science — and risks — of global warming.

The number of people who say that they worry “a great deal” about climate change has hit a high in Gallup’s polling on the issue, which stretches back to 1990. Looking at the past 20 years or so, you can see a pattern: a spike in concern after Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and then a sharp negative response. Since 2011, though, Americans have been more and more likely to say they find climate change concerning.

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