High temps, droughts, wildfires and storms change perceptions.

If you’re a heating contractor who suffered through last winter’s mild temperatures, you probably are getting some payback this summer if you’re also in the air-conditioning business. I try to keep this thought in mind during the sweltering heat in the Midwest and other regions I’ve visited in the last couple months.

And while HVAC contractors and equipment manufacturers may be about the only groups to be enjoying the record-high temperatures, the heat has resulted in an unexpected upside. It has focused people’s attention on our climate more than our mostly nonexistent winter did.

I wrote last month that we can’t lose our sense of urgency on achieving the benefits of green buildings. That’s why I view this summer’s attention on our climate as good news.

Two weather-related news items in particular caught my eye last month. One was a blog reporting the heat and other extreme weather conditions have convinced previously skeptical Americans that climate change really is taking place. The other news story says that water and air pollution have replaced climate change as Americans’ No. 1 environmental concern.

When these items appeared online within a few days of each other, they appeared to contradict each other: More people are taking climate change seriously at the same time they’re losing interest in it. Looking at them more closely, however, I’m not sure that’s the case.

I’ve harbored the deep suspicion that climate change has been occurring for a long time, since the days we referred to it as global warming. I’m usually surprised when I hear people denying it is happening or, if it is, that we as a global population are playing no part in causing it.

Apparently changing many people’s minds is not only the record heat but also the droughts, wildfires and storms that are taking place this summer in many parts of the country. An official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says her agency has been flooded recently with requests for scientific data.

Although people may have thought of climate change in abstract terms in the past, they’re now experiencing it firsthand and want to know why it’s happening, the NOAA’s Jane Lubchenco told the Associated Press. The consequences of the extreme weather are making a direct impact on their lives and changing their perceptions as a result.

Strange, then, that Americans no longer see climate change as the world’s No.1 environmental issue, according to a separate public opinion poll released last month during the ongoing heat wave. The survey was conducted between June 13 and 21, just days before record-setting temperatures led to violent thunderstorms that left millions of people without power in many Eastern states. The poll also followed the warmest U.S. spring on record.

In the survey, sponsored by the Washington Post and Stanford University, 29% of respondents cite water and air pollution as their most pressing concern. That’s followed by 18% who point to climate change, which represents a steep decline from the 33% who made it their top concern five years ago.

Even so, the research doesn’t necessarily contradict the first news item. While the survey downgrades climate change as a chief worry, nearly three in four respondents believe our planet is warming.

 Just as many believe rising global temperatures will continue to be a serious problem if we do nothing to address the matter. More than half the respondents say the U.S. government should do “a great deal” or “quite a bit” about it, and 61% say the same of American businesses. On the flip side, only 18% say the government is taking sufficient action to solve the problem and 13% say the same of businesses.

Even though it has little chance of passage this year, climate-related legislation continues to get support, according to the survey. More than three-fourths of respondents say the federal government should limit the amount of carbon dioxide that businesses can emit.

On a more personal note, 43% believe their own actions to halt climate change would make their lives better and would not impose too much of an individual burden. Just 12% say taking such action would make their lives worse.

This summer’s extreme weather has served as a wake-up call to many of your customers. As contractors, you can help them take action by installing more efficient plumbing and HVAC products as well as educating them on the benefits of such systems.

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