November 2, 2006

What Does It Take To Care About Global Warming?

What Does It Take To Care About Global Warming?

person on end of see-saw

Poised to save the world [Hot Meteor / Flickr]

If we are in fact at a public-opinion tipping point on global warming, and if a see-saw is a blunt metaphor for that tipping point, the U.K. this week just took a flying leap and pounced on one end of it. You could hear a resounding smack in the 48 hours(!) of world media attention trained on British economist Sir Nicholas Stern and his discovery that unchecked global warming could squeeze world’s economy by 20%. The Economist, ever master of the headline, summarized it thus: “Global Warming, Economic Cooling?” In adding his World Bank economic cred to the chorus of scientific voices sounding the alarm, Stern significantly widened the scope of the audience that might be listening.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown certainly are. They now say they want to put the U.K. front and center in the climate battle — and hope to reap spoils in the form of new jobs and technologies. And apparently they hope the U.S. will follow suit.

If you’d like to find out more about the politics and effects of global warming, check out our ongoing series here.

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  • plnelson

    This issue is following a familiar pattern, which the GOP used successfully on the budget deficit and in Iraq –

    First say trust us, everything’s going to be OK, and there’s nothing to worry about. And then when it’s obvious that they were wrong, start saying that, ok, we’re in it now so we might as well try to make the best of it.

    In the case of the budget deficit the GOP claimed up and down that their massive tax cuts would not produce a huge budget deficit, and now that this has proven to be wrong they are claiming that the deficit’s not really THAT bad and anyway look at all the nice SUV’s and McMansions everyone was able to buy with their tax refunds. In the case of Iraq they first claimed that everything would turn out great and we would create a stable democracy that would be a beacon to other Islamic nations, and the whole thing would be paid for with Iraqi oil, etc. Now that it’s obvious they were wrong, they’re saying, well, we’re in it now and we can’t ‘cut and run’ so we might as well stay the course.

    If you follow the conservative press you’ll see the same thing on global warming. For years they were saying that claims of global warming were alarmist and just the fantasies of tree-hugging liberals. Now that the evidence is bcoming clearer they’re saying, look at the bright side – longer growing seasons, the Northwest passage is open to shipping, and 20-30% of the world’s oil which is locked under arctic ice is now accessible to drilling. So my guess is that in the end people will NOT care – people will just adapt as best they can and if poor folks living it hot, dry places can’t grow enough food and starve, well-off people can always change the channel.

    BTW, if you ask the GOP about the long term viability of Social Security and Medicare they’ll say, “trust us – there’s nothing to worry about.”

  • babu

    As a landscape architect, I’ve been running the numbers property by property (outcomes) on clear-cutting and paving for thirty years.

    It’s not pretty and it’s very familiar: the suburbs.

    Now I listen to the construction industry co-opting the language of the green movement by calling everything ‘sustainable’, no matter how marginal the effects.

    And the buying public is be-numbed by the sustainability buzz.

    Last week I heard Al Gore speak his litany in Seattle and have been in a major funk ever since.

    His uber-message is: ‘We’re cooked’. I already knew this.

    I think there’s no way to stop the warming engine. The dominant human hunter-gatherer behavior has provided a positive feedback loop (drill for oil quickly where the ice is gone); it’s a runaway system.

    The meaningful question needs to be framed as deep human ecology. How might we live through the chaos of great system change? (SUV’s as interim housing, etc?)

    The neo-cons, the religious fundamentalist hatred-mongers, the ‘terrorism as a political expedient’ folks; these are but the first screams of an eco-system swinging wildly out of balance.

    If I understand the chaos theory subtext, (cocktail napkin level) it takes some wild swinging for a living system to find a new adjustment state. In fact that’s the only way it happens. We’ve made a mess. Earth will clean it up.

    James Lovelock posed this as the GAIA hypothesis to NASA and the scientific community in +/-1986. His breakthrough observation was that the atmospheric signature of a planet which is supporting life is that it is wildly out of balance, i.e. its chemistry is far from inert.

    Being an optimist I assume life will prevail. But hold onto your hats; we’re going for a great big ride.

  • chilton1

    change the name to “global climate change”

  • metolius8

    What it takes to care about global warming/climate change is the NEXT to the last living thing gasping its dying breathe. The remaining creature might really care. Or not.

  • chilton1

    they came for xxx, but I was not xxx

    so I did nothing…….

  • Ben

    I remember as a kid in the 1970s it took epic public outreach and law to change peoples behavior just on litter. Lots of PSAs like the crying chief and “Keep America Beautiful”, as well as local enforcement of new laws are to be credited. It’s hard to believe it was hardly noticed when people routinely just tossed things out the window driving down the interstate. It’s a fine now.

    I think getting people to care starts moving with heavy duty PR as much as policy. What we saw with the demonizing of people who wanted to save whales, trees, and spotted owls in the 80s and 90s, and even today can be overcome and reversed with effective communication. Additionally, the reds should not be able to easily dismiss and politicize lefty-enviros in the cavalier way that has been accepted for the last half century as information becomes more available and the truth more persuasive and pervasive.

    Global Climate Change is obviously a bigger, longer road to hoe than litter, but once the stewardship can be engendered, even the most crass and irrational deniers of truth can be engaged and their behavior modified. Everyone can do something to help, and once engaged most people want to. They just don’t want to pay for it now, once they get to visualize the behavioral change as a long term investment rather than a temporary expense most people come around.

    I am alarmed, though, it appears environmental issues are taking a back seat to the more immediate issues in the ‘new’ congress and senate. They need to lead on this issue.

  • plnelson

    “I think getting people to care starts moving with heavy duty PR”

    That seems manipulative.

    I think it’s one thing to present facts and data and let people make up their own minds, but if we use emotionally-manipulative methods to try to “sell” environmental policy we’re stooping to the same level Bush did trying to get people to buy into the invasion of Iraq.

    I think that you can’t MAKE people truly care about something – the best you can do with a hard sell is get them temporarily worked up into some kind of froth.

    Also, if you compare the number of responses on this thread to, say, the one about Borat, I think it paints a pretty clear picture of just how much even NPR listeners care about the topic.

  • Ben

    Pl – I agree. I think education always has a manipulative component to it. If communicating and influencing somebody to believe or buy something they may not think they want to is the stoop – we’ve been had since we learned to talk. Proponents of addressing climate change do indeed have a lot to learn from Borat. Al is no Sacha.

  • Ben

    This is something I picked off of KUOW yesterday,

  • plnelson

    The BBC reported today that CO2 emissions have increased dramatically in recent years. They were going up 1% / yr prior to 2000, now they’re going up 2.5% / yr.

    On the other hand I still have grass growing in my yard and today, in late November, I went for a 3 mile walk in Andover, MA in my t-shirt. It was really quite pleasant. I was beginning to think that if a few dead polar bears wash ashore in front of my house that would be a small price to pay for beachfront property this far from the current coastline.

    OK, OK, I know what you’re all thinking : “ocean acidification”. But it’s not too late to start breeding fish that can survive in a tub of seltzer water, which is what we’re turning the ocean into. It might give them a nice tangy taste. BTW, has anyone considered the irony that the Polar Seltzer Company’s corporate logo is a polar bear?

  • joel

    Yes, nobody is going to get interested in “global warming” till they have figured a way to make money exploiting it.

    Various aspects of climate change, “global warming,” environmental degradation, etc. have been referred to as “causes” of many of society’s problems when, in reality, they are results of a far more important phenomenon, the huge, unsustainable and growing current human population, the prime cause of the

    other causes. The technical methods of alleviating the growing short-comings of our life-giving environments will be obsolete by the time they are implemented… outstripped by the size of the population.

    You might find the views of Eric Pianka interesting and edifying:

    The otherwise perhaps flawed domestic policies of China may not be to our liking, but their “one child” per parents should have our blessing and be adopted by the rest of the world as soon and completely as possible. It is nothing less than mandatory. It is the fastest (60 years), the cheapest (zero cost), the most easily participated (no one need do anything – merely do not have a second child) method with essentially no counter-acting side effects.This action obviates the need for all the programs now being touted and it will put the world back to the number of people, resulting from millions of years of linear growth, which existed about 250 years ago, when it was hardly under populated, but it was before the ruinous logarithmic growth that has occurred since. As Dennis Meadows said:”Any environmental issue that doesn’t list overpopulation as the main problem is a lost cause.” Or, as this line on the stationery of The Committee of Concerned Scientists states:”If we do not solve our overpopulation problem ourselves, sagely and humanely, the problem will be solved for us by Nature, efficiently and savagely.”