Climate reporter Andrew Revkin wrote an essay in the NYT on Sunday wherein he tries to “bring the debate on global warming down to earth.”

While I believe global warming is “breaking news” (it’s the fate of Earth we’re talking about after all), I’m not as interested in taking another shot at the “debate.”

What struck me was the story I found in the graphs alongside the article. Several recent surveys show a fairly low level of concern for global warming and the environment generally among Americans. There is a striking disconnect between these survey results and the real, concrete steps being taken at local and state levels. Mark Hertsgaard points out one such example in the recent Vanity Fair green issue:

New York and seven other northeastern states, which together with California amount to the third-biggest economy in the world are also considering a carbon-trading system.

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Wait a second, so the people don’t care, but states and cities are moving forward aggressively? Something’s missing here, or we’re missing something. Since when does local government lead citizens in environmental change? If people are so unconcerned about global warming, why are so many local governments taking it so seriously? Also, doesn’t the scale of these local responses amount to a form of environmental secession?

While the federal government and the media continue to struggle with the “debate,” the real action is happening on the ground, in spite of what we see through traditional lenses. It seems to me that the response to climate change is happening in ways that national-level snapshots and old models of government/citizen relations can’t really represent. Before we write off American’s concern or willingness to take action on climate change, we might need to look at how people are feeling and acting with new eyes and new measures.

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