The United States of Denial

There's a big debate -- and it's one worth having -- over whether people spend too much time worrying about Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and company. As some have pointed out, the most popular primetime host on the Fox News Channel, Bill O'Reilly, draws just a fraction of the ratings that the supposedly dying network nightly newscasts receive. That's true, but the cumulative exposure to these right-wing gabbers -- especially Limbaugh, who even critics admit gets about 13 million daily "Dittohead" listeners -- is huge; they tend to control the conversation at places like the Thanksgiving dinner table, and they can influence the millions of folks mostly watching "American Idol" instead of American politics.

Case in point: Global warming. These conservative voices have been out on a limb these last few years, disputing what most of the world's top scientists report, which is that manmade pollution from greenhouse gases is warming the planet, with serious likely consequences. Are folks getting the conservative message? You bet.

There has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. And fewer also see global warming as a very serious problem – 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 4 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, finds that 57% think there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades. In April 2008, 71% said there was solid evidence of rising global temperatures.

Over the same period, there has been a comparable decline in the proportion of Americans who say global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels. Just 36% say that currently, down from 47% last year.

I wouldn't put this all on talk radio and Fox News Channel alone. While the mercury remains above average where it counts most, at the polar extremes, it's been more often cooler than normal in the United States, and the fact that stricter anti-pollution measures would have an impact on the not-recovering-so-much economy has a lot of people wishing that the whole notion of climate change would go away. Also, as many have noted, misinformation about climate change is heavily funded by industry groups -- but average citizens wouldn't know about their work were it not for the likes of Rush and Glenn.

The U.S. has long been the outlier around the world when it comes to public opinion about global warming -- but the fact that belief in the body of scientific evidence has declined even more is pretty astounding. Here's the latest news from the reality-based world:

Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean reached an unprecedented 7 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius) above normal in October-December of 2008.

_There is evidence that the higher air temperatures are causing changes in the air circulation in both the Arctic and northern mid-latitudes.

_The area covered by sea ice this summer was 25 percent below the average from 1979 to 2000...

But the forecast for any U.S. action is pretty cloudy, and I do think we can thank the folks on the right side of your radio for that. I'm sure they're very proud. Meanwhile, people can get worked up about Limbaugh and the bogus tale of the Obama thesis, but a saga like that is pure comedy gold, nothing more. What El Rushbo and his ilk have to say about the science of climate is deadly serious.