American Policy: Climate Change Misinformation and Illiteracy

It is a growing concern that the world will have to move on without the US in trying to reach a climate change agreement to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol. Many blame US inaction on a regrettable majority of Americans being climate change illiterate. Culpability lies within a range of reasons from big business lobbying against climate change legislation, the current economic fiasco, and a general lack of understanding of climate change for the average American. Even in California conversations regarding climate change are light and uninformed/misinformed when compared to Europe and the rest of the world. Not only is it a problem that there is little understanding and support; there is unfortunately opposition to protect our planet.

September 28, 2009, a Bloomberg poll revealed climate change ranked dead last as a concern for US citizens. The Economy overwhelmingly gathered 46% of the vote, health care 23%, federal budget deficit 16%, Iraq and Afghanistan wars 10%, and finally Climate Change 2%. These results coincide with immediate individualistic concerns regarding job security and personal health. Unfortunately, there's more to the lack of American understanding regarding climate change than immediacy.

Americans preoccupied with the economy are not only to blame: big business has been playing misinformation with climate change for years. Between the years 1998 and 2005 Exxon Mobil has spent $16M dollars to fund organizations with the purpose to confuse the public on global warming. One strategy used to confuse the public was to blame water vapor for global warming. Water vapor is a naturally produced greenhouse gas more abundant in the atmosphere than CO2. What information they leave out is that water vapor, although natural, has a residence time of ten days. Blaming 4°C rise in global temperature on cloud cover is ridiculous, but apparently effective. On the other hand, carbon dioxide created from man made combustion of fossil fuels stays in the atmosphere for 200 years! Unlike water vapor, carbon dioxide doesn't fall back to earth in the form of useful precipitation.

If $16M was all that was needed for seven years, imagine what three times that amount would do over 3 months. Recently, the BBC has reported that the oil, gas, and coal industry have spent $44.5M in the first three months of 2009 to attack the Obama administration’s climate bill. Over this year, spending on climate change confusion will amount to $1 billion. (Imagine what good $1B could have done if invested in climate change mitigation.)

For a country that elected George W. Bush twice, retribution is around the corner for electing Obama. It is time to back up the dreams with action. It is time to turn hope into reality. In the quagmire of American politics there appears to be a shift away from climate change inaction to gradual mitigation. As I will demonstrate in my next posts for American policy (as part of the Climate Change Policy Series) swift action will be the cheapest solution and most attractive to the bottom line.

Photo Credit: Flickr