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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

7 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.

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