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?
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.
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."