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Doing Better on Climate Change

Los Angeles – Tackling global warming, we are often told, is the defining task of our age. An army of pundits tells us that we need to cut emissions, and cut them immediately and drastically. But this argument is clearly losing the battle for hearts and minds.

Global warming has now become the lowest-priority policy problem among Americans, according to a new Pew survey. Another Pew survey showed that China, the world's biggest emitter, cares even less than the US about global warming.  Just 24% of Chinese regard global warming as a very serious problem, making China the world's least concerned country. In the UK, an Opinium survey shows that most voters think green taxes are mainly for raising cash rather than the environment, and 7 out of 10 are not willing to pay more in taxes to combat climate change.

At the same time, the proposed solutions for the problem of global warming have been awful. In Rio de Janeiro in 1992, politicians from wealthy countries promised to cut emissions by 2000, but did no such thing. Leaders met again in Kyoto in 1997 and promised even stricter carbon cuts by 2010, yet emissions keep increasing, and Kyoto has done virtually nothing to change that.

What is most tragic is that when leaders meet in Copenhagen this December, they will embrace more of the same solution: promises of even more drastic emission reductions that, once again, are unlikely to be fulfilled. Measures that consistently over-promise and under-achieve at vast cost do not win hearts and minds in the best of times. And this is manifestly not the best of times.