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An in-depth study of a decade of Gallup polling finds statistical backing for that analysis.

On the question of whether they believed the effects of global warming were already happening, the percentage of self-identified Republicans or conservatives answering “yes” plummeted from almost 50 percent in 2007-2008 to 30 percent or less in 2010, while liberals and Democrats remained at 70 percent or more, according to the study in this spring’s Sociological Quarterly.

A Pew Research Center poll last October found a similar left-right gap.

The drop-off coincided with the election of Democrat Barack Obama as president and the Democratic effort in Congress, ultimately futile, to impose government caps on industrial greenhouse emissions.

Boehlert, the veteran Republican congressman, noted that “high-profile people with an `R’ after their name, like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, are saying it’s all fiction. Pooh-poohing the science of climate change feeds into their basic narrative that all government is bad.”

The quarterly study’s authors, Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University and Riley E. Dunlap of Oklahoma State, suggested climate had joined abortion and other explosive, intractable issues as a mainstay of America’s hardening left-right gap.

“The culture wars have thus taken on a new dimension,” they wrote.

Al Gore, for one, remains upbeat. The former vice president and Nobel Prize-winning climate campaigner says “ferocity” in defense of false beliefs often increases “as the evidence proving them false builds.”

In an AP interview, he pointed to tipping points in recent history _ the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of U.S. racial segregation _ when the potential for change built slowly in the background, until a critical mass was reached.

“This is building toward a point where the falsehoods of climate denial will be unacceptable as a basis for policy much longer,” Gore said. “As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, `How long? Not long.’”

Even Wally Broecker’s jest _ that deniers could blame God _ may not be an option for long.

Last May the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, arm of an institution that once persecuted Galileo for his scientific findings, pronounced on manmade global warming: It’s happening.

Said the pope’s scientific advisers, “We must protect the habitat that sustains us.”