The science has been clear for at least 20 years and the call for immediate action is getting louder every day. So why has so little been done about climate change?

The lack of action becomes even starker as a new report out today by a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out that the longer we wait, the harder and costlier it will be to do anything effective -- and the worse things will get.

Is it procrastination, politics, ignorance or something else? And is there any hope that the tide will turn in time?

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One cause of the delayed response is that when scientists started talking about the mounting evidence of global warming in the 1980s, powerful interests vested in fossil fuels wasted no time in executing a very effective campaign to muddy the waters, says Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of several books, including the relevant "Merchants of Doubt."

"There's no question that the disinformation campaign has been effective," Oreskes told Discovery News. "On the federal and international level we've made no real progress."

The tactics used to cast doubt on climate science are the same as those used to stall science-based controls on tobacco, acid rain, the ozone hole and DDT. For climate, the effect is 20 or more years of inaction and lost opportunities.

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Another, often overlooked, problem is that climate science hasn't been taught in schools until very recently.

"Most Americans have never learned the basics of climate change at school," said Mark McCaffery, who directs the climate change program at the National Center for Science Education. "People have had to put together their own information. At the same time, 1 in 4 people in this country are students."

Search-and-rescue crews work in and around flood waters caused by the Oso mudslide on March 29, 2014 in Oso, Wash. A new climate change report predicts flooding will become more common as the planet warms.David Ryder/Getty Images

Scientists are also part of the problem. They have failed to make their case in a way that the public and politicians grasp, said Oreskes. Climate change is alarming; it's also a political and financial problem.

"The science community has a hard time communicating because it's not supposed to be emotional," said Oreskes. "How do convey a sense of alarm without being alarmist? Scientists are not good at that. People don't really understand why climate change matters."

Yet another obstacle is the fact that climate change is bad news that requires us to make unpopular changes in our lifestyles.

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"We're talking about the entire economy of the world," said Oreskes. "The vast majority of us have built an economy that is built on fossil fuels. Changing it is not going to be easy."

This is not the first time Americans have had to face changes that threaten the fundamentals of their economy. Historians looking at the current situation see some parallels with the antebellum South. In that case it was slavery that provided the labor for goods that benefited the entire United States. Unfortunately, in that case it took a horrific civil war to change the country's economy.

It's in nobody's interest to go that route again. "The Civil War is a deeply troubling analogy," Oreskes said.

There is hope, however, based on what's now happening in education, McCaffrey said.

"We've been making enormous headway in just the last few years," he said. "Many teachers are stepping up with their own largely ad hoc efforts, but more is needed to provide the 1 in 4 people in the U.S. now in school with the knowledge and know-how they need."