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.