From Australia to Addis Ababa, demonstrators delivered the same message.
At some 4,300 locations across the globe, people passionate about climate change flashed or formed the number 350, a reference to the upper limit in parts per million of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that they hope world leaders meeting in Copenhagen this December will embrace as an achievable target to combat global warming.
While the demonstrations made for colorful pageantry, they followed by a few days the release of a report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showing a growing malaise among Americans about the threat of global warming. Despite a strong scientific consensus that the Earth is warming, the polar ice caps melting, and the planet prone to much more violent fluctuations in the weather as a result of manmade pollutants, barely more than one in three Americans (35 percent) consider global warming a very serious problem, Pew found. And just 36 percent of those polled said they believed it is because of the activities of man.
That a majority of Americans seem to shrug at widely held expert agreement baffles and concerns. But then, this is a country in which a majority of those polled by USA Today early in the last presidential cycle didn’t care one way or the other whether a candidate believed in evolution (another 15 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for someone who didn’t).
Why are Americans, in the ninth year of the 21st century, at best lackadaisical about science and the evidence it provides and documents? Is it because we teach our students to memorize such things as the periodic table to ace mandated standardized tests instead of engaging their minds in applying the scientific method? Is it because we are a nation so corrupted by the money of lobbyists and so mesmerized by the zealotry of true believers that we can no longer step back to engage the evidence? Or are we as a nation and people simply so overwhelmed by daily life that we are incapable of coming to terms with anything beyond tomorrow’s headlines?
I personally feel increasingly disconnected from the beliefs and values of the country I live in and love. Some of it, I know is a matter of getting older. Change is a constant of any culture and it’s driven by the young. But I also wonder whether the fracturing of civil discourse in a cyberspace world in which “community” is nichified and to a significant extent shuttered stifles robust inquiry as we migrate only toward those with whom we agree.