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Global Warming Hits Home

Global Women's Project | Tue, Jun 3, 2008

By Theresa Polk, Associate, Election 2008 Project

Gallup released numbers from its annual Environmental poll in April, showing that Americans feel more informed about global warming than in previous years, and that a majority believe the effects of global warming to have already begun. Yet, despite this knowledge, Americans are no more concerned now about global warming than when the survey was first launched nearly two decades ago, and, in fact, rank it tenth in a list of twelve environmental problems.

We seem to believe that climate change is something that happens to polar bears. It seems far, far away from our daily lives here in the US. Years of denial and misinformation have served to bulwark this short-sighted and close-minded view.

However, a new report released by the US government under court order last week blows this myth apart, and demonstrates clearly and extensively that climate change is happening here and is happening now, and will only get worse over the coming decades. Increases in heat waves, heavy precipitation events, severe droughts, hurricane intensity, wildfire activity and sea level rise in the US were all noted in the report. Further negative impacts were documented on crop lifecycles, water resources, and human health, all of which will be further amplified as warming increases.

And as Hurricane Katrina showed in grim detail in 2005, the report re-emphasizes that poor communities are particularly vulnerable, and many are concentrated in high-risk areas. According to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, while the US has high adaptive capacity, or the ability to protect its population from the most harmful impacts of climate change, it lacks the political will and structures to adequately respond. The systems currently in place are reactive rather than preventative, and unevenly distributed, leaving populations that are already marginalized, whether socially or economically, particularly exposed.

At the same time, climate change is a global problem that will impact communities across the Earth, and will necessitate a global solution. Already some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world are finding their lives made even more challenging because of global warming. Yet the same logic that holds climate change is purely an environmental issue and does not affect us has kept the US on the sidelines of international negotiations on climate change and emissions reductions.

The report should serve as a wakeup call to the US that it is time to take global warming seriously. This week the Senate begins debate on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 3036), and while the bill is far from perfect and weaker than we might wish, it is a much needed step in the right direction and a chance to set the stage for re-engagement in international climate negotiations. As the debate unfolds, Senators should be encouraged to continue to strengthen the legislation, and be reminded that this is not simply a matter of environmental interest. Rather, it is rapidly-eroding opportunity to shape our shared future according to principles of the common good, long-term sustainability and a genuine and committed hope.