Scientists are also part of the problem. They have failed to make their case in a way that the public and politicians grasp, said Oreskes. Climate change is alarming; it's also a political and financial problem.
"The science community has a hard time communicating because it's not supposed to be emotional," said Oreskes. "How do convey a sense of alarm without being alarmist? Scientists are not good at that. People don't really understand why climate change matters."
Yet another obstacle is the fact that climate change is bad news that requires us to make unpopular changes in our lifestyles.
"We're talking about the entire economy of the world," said Oreskes. "The vast majority of us have built an economy that is built on fossil fuels. Changing it is not going to be easy."
This is not the first time Americans have had to face changes that threaten the fundamentals of their economy. Historians looking at the current situation see some parallels with the antebellum South. In that case it was slavery that provided the labor for goods that benefited the entire United States. Unfortunately, in that case it took a horrific civil war to change the country's economy.
It's in nobody's interest to go that route again. "The Civil War is a deeply troubling analogy," Oreskes said.
There is hope, however, based on what's now happening in education, McCaffrey said.
"We've been making enormous headway in just the last few years," he said. "Many teachers are stepping up with their own largely ad hoc efforts, but more is needed to provide the 1 in 4 people in the U.S. now in school with the knowledge and know-how they need."