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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

We’re at the beginning of a make-or-break period to confront global warming. A combination of forces, from dire scientific reports to extreme weather events, have crystallized a movement to action.

The big picture: A rare convergence of science that reveals the urgency of the problem; extreme events that highlight threats almost nationwide; and shifting public views that are fueling support for stronger policies, scientists and polling experts say.

In the past 2 years, a spate of dire scientific reports have been published, each of which has hammered home the urgency of acting on this issue.

  • In October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the effects of global warming are already evident worldwide.
  • To avoid more severe impacts, the panel said greenhouse gas emissions should be cut by about 45% by 2030, relative to 2010 levels — a Herculean task compared to current global trends.
  • Another report the Trump administration released on Black Friday tied trends in wildfires, sea level rise, and other extreme events to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The collective message from these studies is that the actions we take in the next 10 to 20 years will be crucial to determining the climate for centuries to come.

Public polling shows evidence that these reports, plus extreme weather events such as the deadly, record-shattering California wildfires, are changing some minds.

  • A December poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change and George Mason University found that the "alarmed" segment of the American public is at an all-time high of 29% — double the size in a 2013 survey.
  • The poll also showed a decline in Americans who are classified as in the "dismissive" or "doubtful" camps.
  • The percentage of conservative Republicans who are worried about climate change has also reached an all-time high, according to Yale's Anthony Leiserowitz, who studies public opinion on climate change.
  • "More Americans think that climate change is here and now, affecting them here and now, and poses a risk to them personally than ever before," he tells Axios.
  • Leiserowitz, along with other social scientists and several climate scientists Axios interviewed, said the shift is being driven by a combination of science reports, extreme events and increased media coverage tying such extreme events to climate change.

In a sign of climate science's influence, the Democrats' Green New Deal resolution championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cites both the UN report and the Black Friday report in its intro text.

The recent science findings are also inspiring a new grassroots movement on this issue.

  • For example, citing the UN report, a 16-year-old Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, is inspiring thousands of school kids to stage walkouts in of the lack of climate action. These protests have swept across Europe, and will reach the U.S. and other countries on March 15.

Yes, but: There are other reasons for some of these changes, such as having a climate change denier in the White House — who's now thinking of setting up a panel to scrutinize the recent scientific reports — and the galvanizing effect that is having on the left.

  • Also, there remains a stark partisan divide in public views on climate, with many Republicans remaining skeptical of the science.
  • Even here, though, the ground is shifting, with oil and gas companies increasing investments in clean energy and supporting a push for a carbon tax.

The bottom line: The next few years will show us whether that means there's a window for action, or whether we'll just be more aware of our fate.

Go deeper

5 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
7 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.

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