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This Earth Day, a focus on Earth's warming

Public awareness about climate change is growing; 83 percent of Americans now call it a 'serious' problem.

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For years, Earth Day celebrants have hugged trees, dressed up as their favorite endangered species, and extolled the virtues of compost and organic gardening.

This year, April 22, the annual day to tout personal and community greenness, has a new emphasis for many people: global warming and its predicted effects on Mother Earth.

Around the country and around the world, a batch of recent opinion surveys show swelling public interest in and concern about climate change.

There is "a significant shift in public attitudes toward the environment and global warming [with] fully 83 percent of Americans now saying global warming is a 'serious' problem, up from 70 percent in 2004," reports the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

"The last six months have been the most rapid period of change in public awareness and attitudes on climate change that I've ever seen," says William Moomaw, a Tufts University climate expert and coauthor of the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-sponsored group of scientists.

Demand for climate-change briefings he's delivered for the past five years have jumped in the past year, says Dr. Moomaw. Audiences who were once polite are now actively engaged.

Now, after talks he regularly finds himself surrounded by mobs of questioners eager to learn more.

One of those who has questions about climate change and its possible impact on local weather patterns is Suzy Carpenter, a fourth-generation Arizonan who lives in Mesa. She's noticed a change in what she calls the summer monsoon season there.

"When I was little it would pour buckets every single night, and it was that way through the summers until I was probably in my mid-20s," says Ms. Carpenter, speaking of the 1970s. "Now it's cycled down to where we get three or four storms per summer, and we're always short on rainfall now."

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