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The Observer: Global warming, global warning – Seacoastonline.com

This year, through Nov. 12, the 26th annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) is taking place in Glasgow. Those who are familiar with the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties will be watching to see what assessments and resolutions are agreed by the 197 nations participating.

I like to imagine billions of people around the world will be sufficiently inspired by the COP26 proceedings to commit themselves to environmental action, but I suspect many will greet the 2021 assessment with a familiar shrug. We’ve been here before. 

Ron McAllister

In fact, we’ve been here at least 25 times before with warnings issued by scientists about the dire consequences of doing nothing. Yet global warming marches on and climate change remains controversial, fueled in this country by simmering ideological conflict.

Numerous action plans, agreements, mandates and protocols have been issued by the COP since 1995. Some years proved more memorable than others like the 1997 meeting which produced the Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 meeting which gave us the Paris Agreement.

Kyoto, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide, methane and four other greenhouse gasses, focused on the industrialized nations who agreed to take leadership roles in these efforts. Paris set a specific target for limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5 degrees, in comparison to pre-industrial levels. 

In the run-up to COP26, UN Secretary General António Guterres showed how far we are from achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. He warned in September that: “Unless wealthy nations commit to tackling emissions now, the world is on a ‘catastrophic pathway’ to 2.7 degrees of heating by the end of the century.”

The U.S. signed on to Paris under President Obama; withdrew from it under his successor; and then joined again under the current administration in 2020. President Biden is attending the conference in Scotland, showing his personal commitment to slow global warming.

It seems clear that the Biden administration is committed to addressing climate change. Commitments on the part of some members of Congress, however, are less obvious as shown by the resistance from a coterie of mostly Republican senators. It makes you wonder how willing people in general are to address the environmental crisis.

A recent report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication provides some answers. The Yale researchers have identified a continuum of six different responses to climate change information within the American public. They classify 18% of respondents as “alarmed.” These are people who are convinced that global warming is happening and that it constitutes an imminent threat.

Another 29% of respondents are classified as “concerned.” These are people who agree with the “alarmed” segment about the climate problem but they tend to believe that the impacts of global warming are sufficiently distant that they need not worry about them just yet. 

Together, these two groups make up 47% of the population. Clearly a lot of people view things differently. The Yale researchers categorize the rest of their respondents as either cautious, disengaged, doubtful or dismissive.

The cautious people haven’t made up their minds about whether global warming is happening or what’s causing it (19%). The disengaged know little about global warming and rarely pay attention to news about it (6%). The remaining 20% of respondents deny that global warming is happening. Some of them believe temperature fluctuations are part of a natural cycle (“the doubtful” who make up 12%) or else they’ve concluded that global warming is a hoax (“the dismissive” at 8%).

Having read about this study, I began to wonder where the people in York fall on this global warming response continuum. The fact that York is currently engaged in a Climate Action Plan suggests the town’s officials (in particular, the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager) as well as many of its citizens are tuned into the importance of addressing climate change.

Those who are “alarmed” and those who are “concerned” must turn their attention to persuading the “cautious” and the “disengaged” that the time to act is running out. The remaining 20% — the “doubtful” and the “dismissive” — will not be persuaded, but neither can they be allowed to dissuade the rest of us. 

Global warming is real. It is caused by human action. And it is proving itself to be ever more destructive and deadly. The world is on a “catastrophic pathway.” We ignore COP26 at our peril.

Ron McAllister is a sociologist and writer who lives in York.

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