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The government knew about it, as did most of the population. Al Gore sponsored the first congressional hearings on climate change in 1976, and I remember putting on a play about environmental issues (including global warming) in 4th grade (1990).

It's very difficult to rally people around a problem until they see tangible evidence of it in their own lives. Global warming was an abstraction in the 80s; we knew it was happening, we knew it would have a big impact, but we were too busy trying not to get nuked by the Soviets (or rather, trying to make them think we were gonna nuke them so they bankrupted themselves). In a democracy you can't get political support for policies until a majority of people agree with you. When it comes to giant systems like the environment, that's too late.

There are probably a number of other problems that can see right now that we are doing nothing about - trust pollution (where you have no idea what's true anymore), mass migration (which I guess we're doing something about, but that "something" is putting kids in cages), erosion of the rule of law, potential infectious diseases, a looming demographic crisis, etc. But all of these are too big to wrap our head around a solution until they become a crisis - we're too busy dealing with climate change - and so they'll just blow up society and we'll be left to pick up the pieces.

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