Climate change negotiators have convened this year’s annual meeting, this time in Doha, Qatar. You can follow their work here: http://bit.ly/RCECzQ or through the work of great environmental reporters collected here: /www.sej.org/headlines/list or here: dailyclimate.org/

Much as I’d love to be there, my work right now is focused on eight U.S. states: California, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon and Texas. I’ve lived in all of them, and still consider the places I’ve lived as my hometowns.

Flyover country

My favorite flyover country

“My Vanishing Hometowns” is about all those places, but it is about more than place. It’s about time and place together: how we tend to think only in the shortest-term imaginable. Climate change once seemed far away – a problem our great-grandchildren might face. Now, it’s happening.

Every day bring new scientific data that further clinches the links between human activity and dramatic changes in Earth’s systems. Despite constant attacks from climate “skeptics,” it turns out scientists actually lowballed their predictions.

Not every study is noticed — at least, not right away.

Last summer, scientists reported a hotspot of sea level rise along the U.S. East coast, especially in a stretch from Massachusetts to North Carolina. As cold water from melting Arctic ice meets water that’s getting warmer from climate change, ocean currents are changing. And warmer water expands. The result is a sea level rise over the past century of one foot.

The ominous warning made news among climate-watchers, but people didn’t pay attention until Sandy – October’s combination nor’easter and hurricane – drowned parts of New Jersey and New York.

As crews searched homes for bodies and worked to get the lights back on just days before the presidential election, Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo talked at length about the need to do more to combat climate change, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent, cited climate change in his endorsement of Barack Obama, and Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie famously praised Obama for his emergency response. Christie, once a climate change skeptic, reversed himself more than a year ago, saying New Jersey was already feeling climate change impacts.

American politicians have been at the heart of the United States’ foot-dragging on climate change, and most likely hold the key to strong government-led action. But politicians are rarely moved by events. They’re moved by voters.

The key question remaining now is: what can move people to act?

Observers aren’t optimistic much will come out of the meeting in Qatar, but we’ve changed before in diverse and deeply contentious arenas.

My book will look at how and why people made tremendous changes in my lifetime – changes in civil rights, feminism, tax policy, the environment, globalization, political party affiliations, capital punishment, smoking, and attitudes about people of different races, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.

We can change again – but we don’t have much time.

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