May 20

American Attitudes Towards Energy Policy, Climate Change: Changing at Glacial Speeds

Last week, Charlie Rose presented this summary of a report which laid out how the melting of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is “beyond the point of no return,” reminding us of the grim consequences: the slow but significant rise in the earth’s sea levels.

I always wonder when I come across scientific findings like these: what does the common American think about stuff like this? In particular, how long will we go on, month after month, year after year, with reports like these piling up around us, before we ask our leadership to develop an energy policy that makes sense, given the realities of climate change (and the other issues associated with the burning of fossil fuels: ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, increasing rates of cancer, etc.)?

I’m afraid the answer is that our attitudes towards climate change are shifting at the same pace that the glaciers themselves are melting: slowly. If we’re making progress here, at this rate, it’s happening over a period of decades.

But why?

The answer may be summed up in another event in the mainstream American media this week:  Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s confident assertion that “the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change is false”.  Rubio, highly regarded by almost half of U.S. voters, was unable to cite any sources for his skepticism, but, for reasons I have trouble comprehending, the absence of any facts behind his belief doesn’t make him any less credible among his many tens of millions of supporters.

The bottom line: a frighteningly large percentage of us put more stock in the speeches of politicians who act at the behest of their huge campaign donors than we do in the peer-reviewed publications of many thousands of our top scientists.  Until that changes, we may find ourselves “stuck in neutral” with respect to our energy policy — or perhaps, under the circumstances, a more apt term may be “treading water.”



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