Global Warming Will Be Important For The Next President

09/23/2011 08:17 am ET | Updated Nov 23, 2011

The next President, be it Barack Obama or the Republican nominee, will be judged by history primarily on whether or not they were able to have our country play its proper leadership role in overcoming global warming. That's because the next presidency will be the most important ever when it comes to overcoming global warming. No other President -- past or future -- will face the kairos moment that the next President will.

In the New Testament, kairos is that moment or moments when salvation or deliverance is offered as something one must choose or grasp. Such a time doesn't last forever. Kairos opportunities must be seized before they pass you by. When it comes to overcoming global warming, we are in kairotic time; our global warming kairos moment has arrived, and it won't last forever. Global warming pollution needs to peak by 2015, if not sooner. Otherwise we may not be able to avoid dangerous tipping points, and even taking drastic measures that are much more costly may not save us.

A poll out last week suggests that with the right kind of political leadership we could be on our way to overcoming global warming. This new poll for Reuters by Ipsos Public Affairs and Stanford University finds the belief that the earth is warming has gone up since November 2010, from 75 percent to 82.5 percent. This includes a 6 percent increase in the number of Republicans who believe this, and a 9.5percent increase in Independents. At the same time, there has been a nearly 4 percent drop in those who believe that global warming is mostly or partly caused by humanity. (Even with this drop, a strong 71.5percent believe this.) In addition, the percentage of those who are now extremely or very sure that global warming is or isn't happening has gone up by 13 percent. In other words, more people are becoming more sure that they are right.

Here's my take on what's happening. The extreme weather and hot temperatures are convincing more people that global warming is taking place -- but some are still wanting to be in denial about the fact that we're causing most of it. In addiiton, because global warming is now such a hot topic in Republican presidential politics, and powerful skeptics like Limbaugh and others are continuing and even intensifying their opposition, this is combining with the weather to create a situation where more people are making up their minds as to what they believe, as demonstrated by the 13 percent increase in those who are sure of their views. Thus, things are heating up (in more ways than one) and shaking out.

One final thing to note about the polling. Both the November 2010 poll and the latest one find that 15 percent of those polled consider global warming to be "extremely important" to them personally. Unfortunately, on this question the pollsters didn't provide a breakdown by political identification (Democrat / Republican / Independent). But even if this 15 percent is made up entirely of Democrats, that is still significant politically given that turnout will be a huge factor in the upcoming election. Add in the facts that 70 percent consider global warming to be extremely (15 percent), very (27 percent), or somewhat (28 percent) important, and 72 percent believe that it is mostly caused by humans, and you have a platform of public attitudes to build upon politically.

I'm not saying it's at the top of the list for even those who consider it extremely important. But I am saying that presidential candidates (including our current President) don't have to run from providing leadership. Indeed, taking a principled stand is the presidential thing to do. Bluntly speaking, you don't have to wimp out on global warming to get elected -- in fact, looking strong on it will actually help.

But this political moment to help shape and lock in attitudes won't last forever. More and more people are starting to make up their minds on global warming, and once we make up our minds they are hard to change.

Both substantively and politically the kairos moment for global warming has arrived. To create the conditions for our country to play our part in overcoming global warming, the next President must have campaigned on doing so, and then fulfill this pledge. Failure will not be treated kindly by future generations as they suffer the consequences.

The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.