THE BLOG

American Apathy

06/24/2015 12:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016

Why are Americans out of step with most of the world in acknowledging that global warming is a major threat to mankind and largely a product of human activity?

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that majorities abroad in both industrialized and developing nations were more concerned than we are about the climatic condition of the planet. It is a division of opinion that persists to this day.

One explanation for the discrepancy has been the success of ideologues (primarily affiliated with the Republican Party), in brainwashing all too many Americans with partisan claptrap. Climate change is portrayed as a contrivance concocted by liberals to accumulate political power. This Machiavellian objective allegedly will be achieved through expansion of federal government regulatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. In the process, it is asserted, the regulations will diminish individual Americans' personal freedom.

Climate change for many in the GOP thus evokes an image of sinister political manipulation, not rising sea levels and soaring average global temperatures.

By contrast, majorities in most other countries view failure to control climate change as the real threat to individual freedom as well as to ultimate survival.

Some American political leaders have also been able to convince a sizable segment of the public that federal greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies are not just unwarranted but also damaging to the economy.

Citizens of other nations, especially developing ones, take a different tack. They actually look to their governments for solutions, including recovery of flagging economies.

Americans mistrustful of Washington are generally more insulated than other nationalities from the ill effects of climate change, including economic ones. Ironically, it is because of the mitigation and restoration programs of the very federal government they so despise.

As a rule, developing nations have been more vocal in acknowledging the threat of climate change since they are more exposed. Sometimes the greater exposure is due to topography (e.g. the island states and sea level rise). More often, it is because of a dearth of resources to combat the incipient violent swings of climate change.

Still, how to explain those industrialized states that are relatively well off, yet share the poorer nations' urgency? Maybe it because they are not distracted by the narrative that the climate change threat is a giant Ponzi scheme. Freed of partisan distortion of climatological science, they can take a detached view of the facts on the ground and what to do about them.

What will it take for us to join the rest of the international community in giving climate change its due?

Perhaps Pope Francis's environmental encyclical will produce a mother lode of domestic converts. Maybe the 20016 presidential campaign will force skeptics' hand. Let's hope it doesn't require some monumental climate change-related disasters to bring our nation to its senses.