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Copenhagen could turn tide on public opinion

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) wraps up in Copenhagen this week, hopes are high among the environmental community for a myriad of accomplishments to come out of the two-week-long talks. The most important outcome might be a chance to turn the tide on a strategic mistake in communicating the concept of climate change to the public.

As a recent NPR story noted, the conference yields an unprecedented showing of leadership for the issue, yet public opinion of climate change is souring – particularly in the United States. In a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, according to the story, climate comes in dead last among issues of concern to America. But that doesn’t completely explain why a number of recent polls show that people are less and less likely to accept the science of global warming.

Part of the problem lies in that very term: global warming. The concept has been a problem from the beginning that no one can grasp if they live in an area where temperatures are at record lows on a given day. It just doesn’t make sense to them. We have to make the concept of climate change applicable to people’s lives right now – not years into the future.

Proponents of action on climate change – both on Capitol Hill and in the White House – have tried to build public support for climate issues by actually not talking about global warming, according to the same story. Instead, they are framing their actions in terms of green jobs and energy security. A recent column from the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman puts things in thoughtful perspective.

Regardless of public opinion polls, business leaders already understand the benefits of new energy solutions and more and more companies are poised to offer those solutions that ensure energy security. And they will continue to succeed because of the cost savings they provide and legislation offering funds to fuel the opportunities. No matter what words we use to describe the issues related to our environmental future, that’s something no one will sour on.

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