A warning from a new poll: Fewer people are worried about climate change

This is not a good time for people to be losing interest in the future of the planet.

A Monmouth University poll published May 6 reported that the percentage of people who consider climate change a very serious problem has dipped to less than half. That’s a significant drop from 54% in 2019 and 56% in 2021.

That number ought to be 100%.

The decreasing number of people who think climate change is a very serious problem might be due in part to a sense by some that advances in reducing reliance on fossil fuels are gradually getting things under control. Wind turbines are sprouting up, solar panels are more prevalent, and more electric vehicles are coming on the market.

But as much as has been accomplished, it’s not nearly enough.

“We have taken some big steps forward in recent years, but we started late, so it hasn’t been enough and it hasn’t been fast enough,” said Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club.

Meanwhile, a survey of hundreds of climate scientists found 77% of them believe worldwide temperatures will blow right by the goal of limiting the increase in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the level that could lead to irreversible ecological damage, The Guardian reported last week. Instead, scientists think the increase will reach at least 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Alarmingly, almost half of the scientists fear the increase will top 3 degrees Celsius.

Such increases would be devastating. Doing everything possible to prevent excessive warning should be a top issue for all candidates running for U.S. president in the November election.

Instead, presumptive nominee Donald Trump last month offered to roll back environmental rules such as speeding the transition to electric vehicles, in exchange for $1 billion in campaign contributions from oil industry executives and lobbyists, as first reported in the Washington Post.

Not only is that scandalous, it also sends the false signal that climate change is not an overriding threat to life on Earth. And it adds to the nation’s political polarization, which might be a factor in how people view climate change, especially during a presidential election year.

On Thursday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she plans to sue the oil and gas industry for its role in knowingly changing the climate, causing weather disasters and imposing costs on health, the economy and infrastructure. Nessel alleges the industry lied about the effects of climate change and dumped the costs on the public. Michigan would join other states such as Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island in filing such suits. In February, Chicago sued five oil and gas companies, saying they contributed to climate change and lied about the risks their products posed.

Also last week, lawmakers in Vermont, taking a different tack, passed a bill that would require major fossil fuel companies to pay for climate change damage, a strategy also under consideration in Massachusetts, Maryland and New York. Illinois should consider pursuing similar legal steps in hopes of discouraging unfettered increases in the burning of fossil fuels and recouping money to pay for the damages.

These lawsuits and legislative bills should give people who don’t consider climate change a very serious risk a chance to reconsider.

In Michigan, Nessel alleges the burning of fossil fuels is contributing to toxic algae blooms, the spread of invasive and disease-bearing pests, drought, weather extremes and more. And that’s just a small part of what could happen if temperatures continue to rise.

Another new alarm bell for Illinois is the low ice coverage on the Great Lakes over the past winter, which was the lowest in 50 years. That can translate into more erosion along Illinois’ coast, including Chicago’s shoreline, and have a negative effect on some native fish species.

The science is clear: Climate change is a very serious risk to all. Everyone, especially when they vote, should keep that in mind.

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