"Climate change" is the preferred nomenclature for global shifts in weather patterns, water temperatures, and other natural phenomena, but regardless what it's called, a growing body of skeptics has succeeded in convincing people that the threat is "vastly exaggerated." According to the New York Times, people in Europe and the United States are beginning to doubt that human activity is to blame.
The article cites a survey from the BBC, which found that only 26 percent of the British people believe climate change is "largely man-made." A similar poll conducted in Germany found that only 41 percent of the German people fear global warming. These changes in attitude come at a time when "scientific consensus" maintains the risks of climate change.
The article goes on to cite numerous passersby and politicians in Great Britain who were once passionate about or alarmed by climate change, but now feel that it is "over-hyped." Great Britain's political leaders, specifically Conservative Party candidates, placed "reducing Britain's carbon footprint" at the bottom of their priority lists of important issues.
Doubt lurks in the United States as well. According to the Times, nearly half of Americans believe the seriousness of global warming is "generally exaggerated." The danger in this thinking, says the Times, is that passing legislation to limit CO2 emissions (for example) becomes more difficult as public opinion shifts "legitimacy ... to the side of the climate skeptics."
So how do these feelings of doubt emerge despite a continued call to arms from scientists and the news media? Partial blame falls on the "unauthorized release of e-mail messages from prominent British climate scientists," which claimed errors and overstated evidence in a United Nations climate report. These e-mails were later proven to make false claims. Another factor could be the unusually cold winters experienced by the U.S. and Europe in 2009/2010. People perceived the winter as very cold, for instance, but the article goes on to inform that globally, this winter was the fifth warmest in history.
Despite these facts, the damage to public opinion was done: people think global warming is a big hype.
In response, scientists are working double-time to fight these misperceptions. They are publishing calls to action in prestigious journals and pledging to become more outspoken in discussing the dangers of climate change. Scientists are also pressuring media to portray the situation accurately. The Times cites Simon Lewis, a rainforest expert who filed a complaint against The Times of London for inaccurate and distorted information about climate change.
Activist groups, like the wildlife organization WWF, are offering "cheat sheets" with answers for "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic," according to the article, so lay people can get involved in undoing the damage that "right-leaning newspapers" have done to public opinion about the threats of environmental issues.
The article closes by reminding readers how easy it is to feel confused, especially when reputable sources seem to be claiming such opposing things. With scientists and activists working to remove misleading articles from news outlets, the battle against misinformation has begun. The task will now be to turn back the tide of public opinion.