Montana Politics

Hope and Climate Change

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Thanks to JC at 4&20 for drawing my attention to this poll: 78% of Americans think that the climate is indeed changing. Less than half of them, however, think that Barack Obama is going to do anything substantial about it. I think, unfortunately, that they are probably right, but I think its more interesting that a great many people are going to end up complaining that despite the fact that they voted, the government didn’t fix the climate for them. After all, they went through all the effort to cast a ballot, shouldn’t that be enough?

I’m not looking to excuse government inaction on climate change – I do think it’s important to make some changes on a policy level to mitigate the effects of global climate change. But if nearly 80% of Americans believe in climate change (though the poll, as I read it, was unclear whether they believed climate change to be anthropogenic), major climate changes can be made without government action. The average size of an American home is now 2.349 sq. feet, compared to less than a thousand in 1950. We’ve nearly doubled our average yearly per capital driving distance since 1970. Last year we imported 2.2 trillion dollars worth of goods. Climate science is not always straightforward, but there’s some very easy generalizations for reducing ones’ carbon footprint: Making things, building things, moving things, and burning things increase free CO2. That’s all the information Americans need to make a substantial difference in the climate without the government needing to do anything at all. If nearly 80% of Americans really believe combating climate change, not taking the lifestyle steps of driving less, living more densely, consuming products and choosing to consume products made close to home is downright unethical, and if 80% of Americans take these steps, there will be a real impact that climate change deniers can do nothing about.

The good news is that some of this is starting to take effect: Americans are driving less and buying smaller houses already. It’s quite likely that both of these trends are being spurred by a slower economy, but as the economy recovers, Americans will get a chance to show their true colors: when the money is there, can we use it to decrease our carbon footprint, or will consumption rise with income? I certainly hope the former. Using the State Department to block the construction of pipeline originating in a friendly nation is diplomatically damaging and politically difficult. Choosing to live in a smaller home or with more people, to walk, bike, or carpool to work, and to delay replacing imported gadgets is common sense both ecologically and economically, and nearly every American can make some progress towards these goals, whether our elected representatives do so or not.

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The Polish Wolf

6 Comments

  • This is kinda rote, uncreative. If I was an editor (which I badly need at my own website) I would say rework, have some pain, self-reflect, add by subtracting, and most of all, embracing the unthinkable. Have at it. Grade: C-. You are capable of much better.

    • Your arrogance is unmatched, Mark. But it is to be expected – it’s never been any wonder whether you valued words or actions more highly. The point is clear – why do you expect the government to fix a problem when individual Americans refuse to take simple steps to fix it themselves?

  • First, govt can’t fix climate if by that what is meant govt has it within its power to change climate direction.

    As to your question about simple steps, about 6 years ago on another blog a writer was going on about he was going to buy a more carbon friendly vehicle and felt quite content that he had done something important. I asked the question, was he willing to have his present carbon beast sent to the crusher rather than selling it or trading it in. Unless the beast is removed, nothing has been accomplished. There is no net reduction. He wouldn’t answer. As to the Seth Borenstein poll compare it with the Gallup poll which has actual meat to it: http://www.gallup.com/poll/153653/Americans-Worries-Global-Warming-Slightly.aspx?ref=more

    PRINCETON, NJ — Fifty-five percent of Americans worry a great deal or a fair amount about global warming, up from 51% in 2011, but still significantly lower than the previous high of 72% in 2000.

    Gallup first asked Americans to rate their concern about “the ‘greenhouse effect’ or global warming” in 1989, and has measured it as part of the annual Gallup Environment survey every March since 2001. An average of 60% of Americans since 1989 have worried a great deal or a fair amount about global warming, but concern has fluctuated significantly over this time period. After increasing in the late 1990s and rising to a high of 72% in 2000, worry declined to a low of 51% in 2004. It picked up again in 2005, reaching 66% in 2008, before falling again in recent years — including another 51% reading in 2011.

    It is possible that this year’s uptick signals the start of a new period of increased worry, but the high level of variability in this trend makes such predictions difficult…

    Most Do Not Expect Global Warming to Threaten Their Way of Life

    A different question included in Gallup’s March 8-11 Environment survey asked Americans if they thought global warming would pose a “serious threat” to them and their way of life in their lifetime. The 38% who said “yes” is up from last year’s 32%, and is about the same as the percentages measured in 2009 and 2010. Worry about the threat of global warming was slightly lower in 1997 and the early 2000s.

    • “. I asked the question, was he willing to have his present carbon beast sent to the crusher rather than selling it or trading it in. ”

      You’ll recall this was the idea behind cash for clunkers, and a very similar program in Germany. However, the carbon emissions inherent in producing a new car make me skeptical of the entire strategy. Better to just use the vehicle you have, less, and replace it with a better one on a normal schedule. The polls are very interesting – perhaps the focus needs to move away from convincing people to believe in anthropogenic climate change to convincing them that it indeed poses a threat to our lifestyle.

      • PW, I know a steel plant that takes cars from the crusher and converts them into steel rebar for concrete reinforcement. I believe most auto sheet steel comes from Asia.

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