Amid skepticism, White House keeps up fight against climate change

The Department of Water and Power (DWP) San Fernando Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley, Calif. is seen in this Dec. 11, 2008 file photo. David McNew/Getty Images

Scientists, corporate executives and government officials will gather at the White House on Wednesday to roll out ways that communities across the U.S. can use technology and government data to prepare for the effects of climate change.

The event comes one day after the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general scientific society, launched a major effort to increase conversation about the risks of climate change. The risks are real, significant and potentially irreversible, the group contends -- and the sooner the world responds, the better.

Dozens of Democrats on Capitol Hill are also trying to renew focus on climate change, but those interested in seeing action in Washington have their work cut out for them. There's little hope in the current political climate for Congress to address the issue, while polls show a significant chunk of the public is skeptical about the enormity of the problem.

The Obama administration on Wednesday is stressing the point that the effects of climate change are already having an impact.

"Even as we act to curb the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, we must also improve our ability to prepare for climate impacts that are already occurring across the country," the White House said in a statement.

To do that, the administration is turning to the information available from its Open Data Initiatives, which released previously hard-to-access data in areas like energy, health, education, public safety, and global development. It's also relying on "cutting-edge technology," the White House said, "to unleash the insights of science in ways that directly benefit communities on the front lines of climate change."

Along with officials from the White House, the event will be attended by Rebecca Moore, the founder of Google Earth Engine; Stephen Harper, the global director of environment and energy policy at Intel Corporation; officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Meanwhile, a group of scientists assembled by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released a report Tuesday stating that "the overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems."

The report stressed that while climate change is man-made, it can also be effectively contained -- for now.

"We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts," the report says. "The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do."

Acknowledging the ongoing public debate over climate change, the scientists wrote, "It is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real."

In addition to releasing this report, AAAS scientists will be rolling out an interactive website to address the issue and plan on attending a number of speaking engagements.

"Even among members of the broader public who already know about the evidence for climate change and what is causing it, some do not know the degree to which many climate scientists are concerned about the risks of possibly rapid and abrupt climate change," James McCarthy of Harvard University, a co-chair of the AAAS climate science panel, said in a statement. "That's something we are dedicated to discussing with multiple audiences, from business leaders and financial experts to decision makers in all walks of life."

A recent Gallup poll confirms that the public isn't as concerned as scientists about climate change. More than four in 10 Americans say they think the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated in the news, according to the survey, conducted March 6-9. Another 23 percent think reports are generally accurate, while 33 percent say the seriousness is underestimated.

Since Gallup starting tracking the public's sentiment on this in 1997, the percentage of Americans who think the threat of climate change is exaggerated has increased -- since President Obama took office in 2009, the percentage has consistently been at or above 40 percent.

At the same time, Republicans in Congress opposed to the administration's energy policies have downplayed the impact of climate change.

"There has been a lot of exaggeration, there has been a lot of hype," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., recently said. "It's time for us to be a bit more cautious and to be less alarmist and to focus more on the science of the situation."

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "For everybody who thinks it's warming, I can find somebody who thinks it isn't."

Democrats in Congress have stepped up efforts to revive the issue in Congress. Earlier this month, dozens of Democratic senators kept the Senate floor open overnight to deliver speeches about climate change.

The chances of getting anything done to address climate change, however, are especially dim. The last serious attempt to address the issue, in 2010, fell apart even with Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. A cap and trade bill did pass in the House in 2009, but it died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. After Republicans took over the House in 2010, the issue was essentially dropped.

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