US public opinion is rapidly waking up to the threat posed by global warming, despite the best efforts of the Bush Administration and much of industry to deny the problem.
There has been a double-digit increase in the proportion of Americans who say environmental problems are a major global threat - from 23 per cent to 37 per cent, according to a comprehensive survey published this week by the Pew Centre in Washington.
The environment is increasingly in the news in the US, thanks to violent and unusual weather patterns - mainly floods and severe drought - combined with the rising cost of petrol. The past few days have seen dramatic rainfall across the southern states. More than a foot of rain fell across central Texas and Oklahoma yesterday, with more storms predicted.
Hardly a day passes without a report being issued pointing to new environmental threats. A study released yesterday revealed how much damage Alaska, which is currently experiencing forest fires, would suffer from higher temperatures, melting permafrost, reduced polar ice and increased flooding.
The cost of repairing Alaska's roads, runways and railroads which are being swept away as the permafrost melts is due to leap from $6.1bn (£3bn) at present to $40bn, according to the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska.
Despite the growing evidence of the economic cost of climate change on the US, opinion remains polarised. Peter Larsen, the author of the Alaska report, pointed out that while "Alaska is warming more quickly than any other place on the planet right now," his concerns were usually greeted with scepticism.
"On more than one occasion I had people laugh at me on the phone," he said, when he had asked colleagues elsewhere in the US how much climate change is affecting infrastructure.
The Pew survey bears out the fact that concern about the environment is still sharply lower in the US than in any other advanced industrial country, with the exception of the UK. In every other Western European country large majorities view global warming as a serious problem, ranging from 57 per cent in Italy to 70 per cent in Spain.
The survey of some 10,000 people worldwide by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that public opinion in Great Britain mirrors the US view. In the UK, less than half (45 per cent) say it is very serious while another 37 per cent rate it as a somewhat serious concern.
The survey found that the Chinese are far more likely than Americans to cite environmental problems as a major global danger (70 per cent against 37 per cent).
Worldwide, most people in the surveyed countries agree that the environment is in trouble and most blame the US and, to a much more limited degree, China.
President George Bush refused to sign up to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and at this month's G8 summit he was the driving force behind the omission of a specific target for reducing carbon emissions in the final climate-change communique. The EU, Canada and Japan had been pushing for a 50 per cent cut in global emissions by 2050.
In 34 of the 37 countries surveyed by Pew, the United States is named by a majority as the country that is "hurting the world's environment the most."
This finger-pointing at the US spills over into a more general Americanism. Majorities in many countries are also deeply opposed to US foreign policy and express distaste for American-style democracy, the survey found. Favourable views of the US tend only to be found in the "New Europe", some parts of Africa and the Far East.Reuse content