This should be the summer of our discontent, with heat waves, drought, and other troublesome weather affecting large parts of the nation. Instead, Americans are hot but apparently not bothered about what it all might mean.
According to a new Washington Post-Stanford University poll, just 18 percent of Americans interviewed named climate change as the world's top environmental problem. In 2007, when Al Gore's warning documentary and a United Nations report made headlines, 33 percent called climate change the top issue.
It's not as if people don't care about the environment: The top concern, expressed by 27 percent of those surveyed, was polluted water and air -- certainly a real challenge. And nearly three-quarters of those polled said they believe the Earth is warming; about the same percentage think temperatures will continue to rise if nothing is done.
The poll and follow-up interviews suggest that people are looking to Washington for leadership and action. But after seeing little or none, they are not consumed by a sense of urgency.
The Republican Party is filled with climate-change skeptics who call global warming a plot to justify higher taxes and limit freedom. Hardly a week goes by in Congress without a new attack on the Environmental Protection Agency's duty to curb greenhouse gases. This has stymied the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats, who have attempted unsuccessfully to pass "cap and trade" legislation to limit pollution.
Yet while reactionary politics rule in the nation's capital, ordinary Americans have embraced green initiatives, from using recycled bags at the grocery store to buying fuel-efficient cars. Green buildings are increasingly the norm.
People get it, but politicians and talking heads lag behind, despite the vast body of scientific opinion. Nobody can say with certainty that this or that day is the result of global warming -- the inexact term for climate change, which includes other types of severe weather, tornadoes, hurricanes, even snowstorms.
But the trends tell the tale, and it seems the predictions for climate change are being fulfilled. Public complacency on this issue comes at just the wrong time.
This presidential election should be a referendum on a number of key issues. Among them is the health of the planet, which shows every sign of being wracked by fever.