The sweltering heat this summer in most of the country has resulted in an unexpected upside: It has focused people’s attention on our climate more than our mostly nonexistent winter did. I view this attention on our climate as good news.

Two weather-related items in particular caught my attention 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 is a survey that says water and air pollution has replaced climate change as Americans’ No. 1 environmental concern.

When these items appeared online within a few days of each other, they appeared to be contradictory: 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 is occurring for a long time, since the days we referred to it as global warming. I’m usually surprised when I hear people denying that it is happening or, if it is, that we as a global population are playing no part in causing it.

What is changing many people’s minds not only is the record heat but also the droughts, wildfires and storms that are taking place this summer. An official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says her agency has been flooded 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 an opinion poll released last month during the ongoing heat wave. 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 biggest worry five years ago.

Even so, the research doesn’t necessarily contradict the first news item. While the survey downgrades climate change as a chief concern, 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.

On a 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 weather has served as a wake-up call for many of your clients. You can help them take action by designing more efficient plumbing-and-mechanical systems that will make their lives better and help the planet too.