There’s been a lot of news about climate change in the last two weeks.
Let’s start with the latest global research released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The 2009 State of the Climate Report calls climate change “unmistakable,” and says that more and more Americans are experiencing the effects of climate change, ranging from rising temperatures, rising sea levels, longer growing seasons, changes in river flows, increases in heavy downpours, and earlier snowmelt. The report compiled data from more than 300 scientists in 48 countries, and confirms that each of the last three decades was warmer than the one before.
Speaking of warmer temperatures, there’s also a record heat wave in Russia. It’s killed more than 1,200 people, spawned massive and destructive wildfires that have wiped out entire communities, and burned grain fields the size of Kentucky. This calamity caught the attention of Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, who just last year announced that his country, the third largest polluter after China and the US, would release 30% more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the next ten years.
In a stunning reversal, just last week, he made a statement that called for action to address climate change. Until this remarkable admission, the official Russian position on climate change has been that it’s a Western conspiracy designed to further weaken the Russian economy. In fact, last week the country’s largest newspaper ran a headline asking “Is the Russian heat wave the result of the USA testing its climate weapon?” The article’s answer was yes.
And then there’s the American government. It appears that climate change legislation is dead for now and, according to a New York Times article, our government’s inability to pass this sort of legislation is starting to undermine our international credibility and influence. An African climate change negotiator, attending this week’s meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change said he is no longer hopeful that America will pass a climate change bill. A French negotiator said “On the one hand the US is leading the scientific field of climate change, and on the other hand there is this incredible difficulty to have bipartisan agreement on climate change.”
Here’s how this all connects back to consumers: our quarterly polls (and other polls) tell us that belief in climate change is down again – fewer than half of Americans say they believe in it. But we also know from our polling that personal experience with the by-products of climate change increases belief and motivation to act. So if the NOAA report is correct, and more Americans are starting to personally experience the impacts of global warming, we might see an increase in the number of believers over the next several years. But for the time being, marketing messages calling for people to “fight climate change” simply won’t work, and our elected representatives seem to be aware of that as well.
Ironically, given Russia’s about-face on the issue, this could be the start of a new Cold War about global warming.