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Environment

An Abrupt Change on Climate Change?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJanuary 23, 2007 8:15 PM

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There's a widespread sense that a change is afoot on the climate issue--so much so, in fact, that some commentators are producing what I view as simplistic accounts of how this came about. See for example Sebastian Mallaby in the Washington Post:

Eight months ago, when Gore's climate documentary was released, this state of affairs was inconceivable. Not only was Bush still a player, the case for climate change was widely doubted. Chortling climate-deniers, expecting an easy propaganda victory over the man whose energy-tax proposal they killed in 1993, greeted Gore's movie with glee. A group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute put out two TV commercials asserting that climate science is inconclusive. A House Republican hearing ridiculed a graph that features prominently in Gore's movie showing the world's temperature puttering along in a steady state before shooting upward like the handle of a hockey stick. But this time around, Gore has proved a tougher adversary. His movie has grossed an astonishing $24 million, not counting foreign sales; the accompanying book has spent 29 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. His Republican opponents have lost control of Congress. And the Competitive Enterprise Institute has lost the patronage of Exxon Mobil, which decided to stop financing climate lies and start discussing carbon regulation.

"The case for climate change was widely doubted": By the same people who've long doubted it, many of whom continue to do so. The skeptics have not all converted in the last 8 months. Let's not exaggerate. "Greeted Gore's movie with glee": Yeah right. If anything they were afraid of the influence it might have. CEI/House Republicans: They've been attacking the science for ages. I suspect they will continue to do so in various ways until this issue is completely off the map. Al Gore: He's been influential, but if the climate issue is changing, I think that's for reasons even bigger than Gore. He deserves some credit but certainly not all of it. Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle is a great science writer, but I have a related (if less severe) quibble with his latest article. He writes:

...it took the dramatic images of a hurricane overtaking New Orleans and searing heat last summer to finally trigger widespread public concern on the issue of global warming.

Is there really widespread public concern about global warming? All the polling data I've seen suggest that Americans still do not place it anywhere near the top of the agenda. Sure, they care about global warming if you ask them about it. But if you don't ask them, it's not at the front of their minds.

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