President Barack Obama has said that the most important policy for him to address if given a second term in office is climate change. A new Washington Post/Stanford University poll shows a dramatic drop, though, in concern over global warming.
In 2007, 33 percent of Americans named global warming as the "single biggest environmental problem the world faces today." That proportion has now dropped 15 percentage points in the most recent poll.
Only 18 percent of those surveyed named global warming as their top environmental concern, returning to levels not seen since 2006, when 16 percent said the same.
Whereas in 2007 global warming was the top environmental concern, the top concern now is air and water pollution. Twenty-nine percent of respondents listed these as the world's most important environmental issues.
In 2007, global warming was a hot topic. "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary about global warming narrated by former Vice President Al Gore was released in 2006 and won the Oscar for best documentary in 2007, as well as a number of other accolades. Also in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) issued a report saying that most of the Earth's warming over the past 50 years was most likely caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Gore and the IPPC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on global warming.
Since then, though, the cause of global warming awareness has taken some hits.
In 2009 there was a controversy, known as "climategate," over some emails among climate scientists stolen by an unknown hacker. Some global warming skeptics charged that the emails demonstrate that scientists tinkered with the data used by the IPPC to make it seem like the data fit the global warming narrative.
Last year, a study published by climate scientists Roy Spencer and William D. Braswell at the University of Alabama in Huntsville showed that the Earth's atmosphere has not been trapping as much heat as the IPPC predicted.
And this April, James Lovelock, the scientist who wrote many books hailed by global warming activists, said he was an alarmist on global warming and admitted that many of his predictions have not happened. In the same interview he cited "An Inconvenient Truth" as another example of alarmist global warming rhetoric.
The poll also shows a growing distrust of what scientists say about the environment. In 2007, 32 percent said they trust what scientists say about the environment "completely" or "a lot," while 24 percents said they trust scientists "a little" or "not at all." In the recent poll, those numbers are flipped. Twenty-six percent said they trust what scientist say about the environment "completely" or "a lot," while 35 percent trust scientists "a little" or "not at all."
In a Tuesday interview with The Christian Post, Richard Cizik, president of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said the poll did not surprise him and is consistent with trends he has seen in other polls.
Cizik has long advocated for evangelicals to become more involved on the issue of climate change.
The fact that water and air pollution is ranked a greater concern than global warming is understandable, Cizik said, because "you can see, feel and, in some cases touch, ... air or water pollution."
"You jump in a lake and it's absolutely polluted, or you're told you can't eat the fish for fear of poisoning, you get a real sense of immediacy of the threat," Cizik explained, "whereas, global warming, to most people looks like 'global weirding.' It impacts the climate around them ... in extreme weather events like we've just had, but it's still not immediately tangible."
In a June New Yorker article, Ryan Lizza wrote, after speaking with several White House officials, that President Obama "has said that the most important policy he could address in his second term is climate change, one of the few issues that he thinks could fundamentally improve the world decades from now."
Cizik believes that Obama does not address the issue now as much as he should, but agrees that it should be a top agenda item.
"I hope so," Cizik said, "climate and energy ought to be at the top of his second term agenda if he is reelected."