The report to the government of the United Kingdom on the consequences of unchecked global warming received a deserved splash of recognition in the past couple of days. The key point made in their report is that time is short to begin a global program to significantly reduce human-caused warming, and that each passing year before action is taken will make the economic impact much greater.
There were two intriguing aspects of the story. One is that Prime Minister Tony Blair went out of his way to cite the United States as a laggard in confronting global warming, and to call for a change of direction.
The second item of note is that former Vice President Al Gore has been asked to advise the UK government on both the causes and the solutions to global warming. This can be seen as both recognition of his global stature in confronting the issue, and an indirect statement to the U.S. that they ought to pay attention.
Many of you have probably seen the Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth. If you have not, you should, and it will be out on DVD soon. I have challenged audiences since I first saw it to sit down, watch it with their kids if they have them, and then see if they can look the kids in the eye. Not easy to do.
Last week I had the chance to see the former VP in a public presentation of his famous slide show, at the Key Arena in Seattle. It was, he said, probably the biggest single audience he had had to-date for his program. The program still follows the movie script for the most part, but Gore introduced several new pieces of evidence. For example, wild fires both around the world and especially in the western U.S. are now being recognized as growing much worse. Gore points out that decreased soil moisture, a predicted outcome of global warming, will increase the problem.
Over the summer of 2006, new evidence of the melting of both Greenland and of the artic ice cover came in, and Gore presented the new pictures. And, while the connection is circumstantial, the strange appearance of gigantic jelly fish off the coast of Japan, far from their normal range, may be another indicator of ocean changes that are a response to warming.
This week, a new study appeared from MIT that suggests what we have suspected in past several months — that a public turning point has been reached. In a 2003 survey of the American public global warming was ranked sixth among ten environmental issues, but in 2006, global warming is now ranked as the nation’s most pressing environmental problem.
What this means is that it is possible now to spend less time laying out the case for global warming and more time describing realistic and attractive solutions.