Compared to China & Brazil, the US is Climate Illiterate, Scientist Says

how americans understand climate change image

Graphic from the Washington Post on how different nations ranked the importance government should place on climate change. Note the US on the left...

The following frankness doesn't happen often enough in the international climate change debate: Reuters reports that the head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Hans Shellnhuber, told reporters that a large part of the United States is "climate illiterate" and that inaction in Congress threatens to undermine the COP15 talks in December:

It's a deeper problem in the United States, if you look at global polls about what the public knows about climate change, even in Brazil, China you have more people who know the problem, who think that deep cuts in emissions are needed.

The United States is in a sense climate illiterate still. If you look at what people in the Republican party think about this problem it's very unlikely you come up with something.

Shellnhuber went on to call the COP15 talks "the most important meeting in the history of the human species," and "We're simply talking about the very life support system of this planet."

Emission Reductions Well Short of Science Recommendations
Which may sound like hyperbole, but it's not, when you consider that climate scientists say that emission cuts of 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020 are needed to prevent global temperature rise of more than 2°C -- remember that if we hit 4°C, something that is likely under a business-as-usual scenario, half of all animal and plant species could go extinct -- and currently industrialized nations have collected committed to only about 15% reductions, with the US effectively pledging simply to return emissions to 1990 levels by that time.

What we need is more scientists like Shellnhuber being provocative, and more of civil society telling their negotiators and politicians, in the streets, on their doorsteps if need be, that much stronger reductions are needed. It may hurt to make these changes, but the costs of inaction are so far much greater that failure to step up to the science is inexcusable.

More: Reuters
Global Climate Change
Climate Change Could Cost Nations 19% of GDP by 2030
Half of All Animal Species Will Be Extinct in Your Lifetime, Unless Emissions Peak by 2020
Global Warming Has Opened the World's Next Suez Canal
Why the US Lags Behind the Entire World in Understand Climate Change

Related Content on