Despite years of warnings, scientific consensus, global treaty negotiations and the appearance of predicted increased instances of violent weather and climate refugees, nearly half of Americans don’t worry about global warming. According to Gallup, the number of Americans who worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about climate change has decreased from 63% of respondents in 2001 to 51% today. In the poll of attitudes toward nine major environmental issues, about three quarters of Americans were very or somewhat concerned about water issues, including toxic contamination of water, pollution of bodies of water and pollution of drinking water, and 72% worried a great deal or a fair amount about air pollution.
Is Worry a Zero Sum Game?
Concern over nine environmental issues declined from ten years ago, as issues such as the economy, war and energy prices take center stage. In a poll conducted last month, 68% of Americans worried a great deal (34%) or a fair amount (34%) about the quality of the environment, while 93% worried about the state of the economy. After the economy, federal spending, healthcare, unemployment and the social security system rounded out American’s most worrisome issues. Maybe there is just so much worrying one human can do; for better or worse environmental issues must seem less pressing when we contemplate our lives without jobs, access to healthcare, or a secure old age.
Navy Admiral: “Business As Usual Won’t Cut it”
While many average Americans are not concerned about climate chaos, one traditionally conservative institution, the U.S. military, is deeply concerned about the effects of global warming on national security and is making enormous efforts to “green” its operations. Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, speaking on March 31 at Johns Hopkins University, was unequivocal, saying that the potential effects of climate change are “sobering and far-reaching.”
“Glaciers are melting at a faster rate, causing water supplies to diminish in Asia. Rising sea levels could lead to a mass migration and displacement similar to what we saw in Pakistan’s floods last year,” said Mullen. He noted, “Scarcity of water, food and space could create not only a humanitarian crisis, but conditions that could lead to failed states, instability and potentially radicalization.” Mullen continued, “these strategic constraints related to the economy and energy consumption – combined with the panoply of emerging challenges we see in the headlines – could place our nation at what I believe is at a strategic turning point. Here too, business as usual won’t cut it.”
While unchanneled worry is not desirable or helpful, the tragedy is that our economy would actually be healthier if government, industry and academia accepted the threat of climate change and embraced the opportunities that changing behavior for the better can bring.
Photo: What, me worry about global warming?
09-25-03 © mammamaart via iStockphoto
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