U.S. President Barack Obama will take the case for acting on climate change to Al Roker and other TV weather personalities, hoping they can help convince the public that the risks of floods and droughts is a reason to curb greenhouse gases.
It’s no easy sell.
While a government advisory panel today said that global warming is already prompting increases in coastal flooding, heavier rainstorms and more intense wildfire seasons, Americans rank the issue low on their list of priorities.
“We find no evidence that it’s a high priority for Americans,” Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said in an interview. “They are much more concerned about more proximate issues such as jobs and the economy.”
Even among environmental issues, global warming rates as a lower priority than polluted drinking water or toxic waste, he said. It doesn’t show up at all among the top issues citizens say are the most important facing the nation.
The authors of today’s National Climate Assessment -- and the Obama administration -- are trying to provide reasons that climate change should be a bigger concern. The panel said many regions are already facing adverse effects from warming, and more problems are coming unless curbs in fossil fuel use are pursued, and communities begin to try to mitigate the threats.
“The real bottom line is that climate change is not a distant threat,” John Holdren, the top White House science adviser, told reporters today. “You are going to see the polls change,” as Americans begin to appreciate the “salience” of the issue, he said.
The report today specifies the impact across the U.S., including a 71 percent increase in heavy rain and snow in the Northeast in the past half-century and an increased risk from hurricanes linked to higher sea levels. The effects will ripple across the economy, from infrastructure along the densely populated corridor from Washington to New York to Boston, to crops in the Midwest farm belt to water supplies in growing cities of the Southwest, the authors concluded.
They also didn’t shrink away from naming a single cause.
“Humans have been increasingly affecting global climate, to the point where we are now the primary cause of recent and projected future change,” according to the report. “Global climate change is projected to continue to change over this century and beyond, but there is still time to act to limit the amount of change and the extent of damaging impacts.”
The scientists from academia, industry, environmental groups and the government prepared the report, and its findings are the closest to a consensus about global warming in the U.S.
The new assessment makes specific regional projections, maps flood-vulnerable areas, estimates potential deaths from heat waves and gauges the challenges to land and marine ecosystems.
John Podesta, an Obama adviser who’s overseeing the president’s climate plans, said the White House will focus on climate-change policies this week, using executive actions to address the problem as most Republicans in Congress reject the scientific consensus.
“The president, under existing law, has the authority to take action,” Podesta said at a briefing today. Congress “is challenging right now, but hopefully this will change some minds” and “climate deniers will recede,” he said.
In his last budget, Obama asked Congress to approve a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund. It would pay for research to better understand the effect of climate change on rural areas, cities and their public works programs, and help them prepare to reduce future risks such as rising water, higher-than-average temperatures and more frequent severe weather.
The Obama administration is seizing on this report to support efforts to curb carbon dioxide from power plants, help communities prepare for warming that is already “baked in” and limit releases of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.
As part of the report’s unveiling, Obama is set to give a series of interviews to eight television weathermen, including with Roker of NBC’s “Today” show.
“TV weathercasters actually have entree, they have access to regular Americans,” Ed Maibach of George Mason University and part of the group that worked on the report said today at a White House event to unveil the report. Obama is “talking with the very people who are going to get this information off the loading dock and into the hands of ordinary Americans.”
Gavin Schmidt, climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Institute in New York, said being specific about heat waves or tornadoes can help bolster the case that the climate is changing, he said.
There is scientific debate about when a storm, such as Hurricane Sandy, or other weather events, such as the current drought in Texas and Oklahoma, is linked to climate change.
“Oklahoma is burning, both literally and figuratively, as a combination of drought, record heat, high winds and low relative humidity created the perfect wildfire conditions,” state climatologist Gary McManus wrote in an assessment.
Even so, asked if the drought had anything to do with global warming, McManus had a ready reply: “I don’t think we would chalk this up to climate change. This is part of the drought cycle we see in the Great Plains.”