August 11, 2014

Climate Change Unchanged

Anyone who believes that human activities have changed our climate has to be a bit depressed. Very little has been done to stem greenhouse gas emissions. The latest U.N. report says we will have to cut those emissions by 70 percent in order to avoid an increase in average global temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius, which is equal to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Such an increase would make today's extreme weather events look like the good old days they may well prove to be.

The United States remains highly resistant to the idea of climate change. Polls consistently show that two-thirds of Americans don't think climate change poses a serious threat. Five years ago, I compiled a Top-Ten list of reasons why climate change has met such a chilly reception here. On re-reading the list, which is reprinted below, I have to say that little has changed. Well, things have gotten worse, so yeah, there has been change--just not for the better.

Why Climate Change Is A Tough Sell in America

October 2009 – With apologies to David Letterman, I offer up my top 10 reasons why climate change is a tough sell in America.
Climate change is not breaking news. We Americans have grown addicted to stories that sweep over us like a giant wave. Climate change creeps in with the tide.
Climate change is not easy to understand. Weather is what you see out the window today. Climate change is computer models trying to guess what you will see out the window 30 years from now.
Climate change is not easy to explain.  Weather is Al Roker. Climate change is Al Gore.
There is no single plan to rally supporters around. Pretty much everyone agrees that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced. But which ones, by how much and how soon, through what methods … these are all topics of intense debate.
The pain is here and now; the gain is off in the distant future. Doing something about climate change will cost billions of dollars right now. The ultimate benefit will be a more livable planet 30, 50, 100 years from now.  That’s asking for a lot to be taken on faith.
The human brain is not wired to think in terms of centuries. We pretty much live in the moment. Somewhere between the here-and-now and 100 years from now, we just stop listening.
Future shock rocks. We are being bounced from one crisis to the next like a ping-pong ball in a room full of mouse-traps. Sooner or later, we just reach the point where we just want to pull back into our shells and stop listening.
Resistance is not always futile. Controlling greenhouse gas emissions will cost big business some big bucks. If they can avoid or mitigate that future expense by financing extensive (dis)information campaigns, why not do it? Spending millions today beats spending billions tomorrow. It’s not like the average politician is looking for a reason to believe.
The political process is exhausted. The battle over health care reform has given the political process a severe case of battle fatigue. It remains to be seen how much fight is left in both parties as they try to confront an issue as complicated and contentious as energy reform.
Nation states suck at solving global problems. The world is a bunch of teenagers who have been sent to their rooms. Each room is a nation-state with a big sign on the door that says, “You are not the boss of me.” Collective action does not come naturally or easily at this stage in our geopolitical development. 

Reprinted from Fifty Years of Global Warming, available without charge at all major e-book outlets.

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