Standard survey questions often uphold (or manufacture) false dichotomies. Case in point: the perpetual practice of pitting the environment against the economy. Nonetheless, these questions can reveal interesting trends over time. And every now and then, the numbers show that the public sees right through "either/or" questions that just don't add up -- like recent research that shows Americans link economic opportunity to environmental protection. First, recent trends on that pesky "environment vs. economy" question: According to a new Gallup poll conducted March 6-9, despite fears of a looming recession, Americans continue to favor protecting the environment even at the risk of curbing economic growth: 49 percent to 42 percent. But this seven-point margin is down from the 18-point margin of a year ago, when 55 percent favored the environment. Further, the 49 percent of Americans currently favoring the environment over growth is only two points above the historical low over the past couple of decades.
Forests have gained a lot of attention in the climate change conversation because of their ability to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Individuals can buy "reforestation" offsets on the internet. There's talk of including credits for carbon stored in trees and wood products as part of many proposed cap-and-trade systems. Cities and businesses are even planting trees as part of their efforts to slow climate change. But forest ecosystems are, by their nature, unpredictable. And new research shows carbon sinks are weaker than predicted. There's no doubt that forests, and their tremendous ability to store carbon, can play a role in protecting the climate. But we have to be cautious about that role. Forest ecosystems are, by their nature, unpredictable -- - there's simply no way to know how much carbon a forest will store over the long haul. Worse, climate change itself magnifies those uncertainties. If a warmer climate makes forest fires more frequent -- as some people believe is possible -- then a lot of "offsets" will simply go up in smoke. Or consider BC's devastating pine beetle infestation -- an example of how ecosystem disruption can fell more trees than any chainsaw. And there's troubling news today that makes us more cautious than ever: A new global study by researchers at the University of Helsinki shows that trees are absorbing less CO2 than predicted, as the world warms and vegetation patterns shift.
Americans have a history of joining together in times of crisis. But the terminology of war is the most familiar rallying cry. So it's understandable that when he's talking about global warming, John Edwards often implores Americans to be "patriotic about something other than war." And when Al Gore accepted his Nobel Prize this week, he said, "We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war." So, where is America the strong, free, brave, visionary? Where is America, defender of the world's climate? The U.S. is not leading the charge at this week's U.N. climate conference in Bali. American delegates have insisted they would not be a "roadblock" to a new international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. Not be a roadblock? Was it irony or simply poor word choice?
Will the burgeoning "green" economy have a place in it for everyone? To a packed auditorium in Seattle last Wednesday, Van Jones said: It can. And to be successful, it has to. In the chorus of voices against climate change, his message rings true and clear: "We have a chance to connect the people who most need work with the work that most needs to be done." Van Jones is a civil-rights lawyer and founder and executive director of an innovative nonprofit working to ensure that low-income, working poor, and minority youth have access to the coming wave of "green-collar" jobs. Jones -- brought to Seattle by Climate Solutions, King County, El Centro de la Raza, Puget Sound Sage, and Earth Ministry -- made a compelling case that social justice is the moral anchor required to fuse the climate movement into a powerful and cohesive force. He sees that the solutions to global warming are the solutions to the biggest social and economic problems in urban and rural America. His point is this: You can pass all the climate legislation you want, but you have to provide the local workforce to make it happen on the ground. "We have to retrofit a nation," he says. "No magical green fairies are going to come down and put up all those solar panels." This is going to take skilled labor. "We can make a green pathway out of poverty." And it gets better, he says. These jobs can't be outsourced. "You can't put a building on a barge to Asia and weatherize it on the cheap." This is about kitchen table issues: jobs, industry, manufacturing, health, education.
On a hot day this summer, Chinese President Hu Jintao and a group of state leaders appeared at a public function wearing short-sleeved shirts, rather than their normal business suits. According to the state press, the casual attire wasn't just a new fashion statement: China's top brass were leading by example, encouraging Chinese workers to dress in light clothing in order to reduce the use of air conditioners in office buildings. Fashions do change. Outright denial of global warming is out of vogue. Instead, the climate change do-nothing set is sporting this season's new line: "Why should we bother trying to fight climate change when China won't do anything to reduce its emissions?" (Conservative communications consultant Frank Luntz even insists that the "'international fairness' issue is an emotional home run." Emotional home run? One might ask what a win looks like in his game?) How to counter this flawed logic? Hu Jintao's climate-fighting wardrobe choices aside, here are three ways:
In an undeniable rush, corporate giants are jumping on the "green" bandwagon: Wal-mart, Ford, Dow, General Electric, British Petroleum, Chevron, DuPont, to name only a few. "There's a tendency to put a green smiley face on everything," says Joel Makower, author of The Green Consumer. And smiley faces are rearing their heads all over the place. "We use our waste CO2 to grow flowers," claims a Shell Oil ad. Right ... But the concept isn't new. In 1999, "greenwash" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, where it is defined as: "Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image." Naturally, green branding breeds even greener skeptics. There are plenty of arguments for why this is inherently bad, especially if it's just lip service -- or worse, polishing up the public image of big polluters or convincing people that an environmental problem is being solved by industry when it isn't. On the other hand, if huge corporate ad campaigns help cultivate a green-conscious public that doesn't stop at voting with their dollars but also votes its greenness at the ballot box, we have a better chance of moving sustainable policies forward. Greenwashing, for all the ire it raises among the truly green, might have long term political benefits.
Can you guess? 1. "In 1971, I participated in the second Earth Day and became the coordinator of an interdisciplinary Environmental Studies program at West Georgia College." Find out here. 2. On the occasion of the first Earth Day: "[there is an] absolute necessity of waging all-out war against the debauching of the environment." Find out here. 3. "Our nation has both an obligation and self-interest in facing, head-on, the serious environmental, economic and national security threat posed by global warming." Find out here. 4. "We simply must do everything we can in our power to slow down global warming before it is too late. The science is clear. The global warming debate is over." Find out here. Lesson: Stewardship is a value that should always transcend party politics.
Can you believe we're already several galloping laps into horse race reporting on the 2008 presidential campaign? Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi describes this phenomenon more eloquently than I can (and with more profanity than I would probably dare) here. For anyone already snorting in disgust and tuning out the constant stream of chatter about who's raised more money, who's realigning their image this way or that (with what hunting photo-op or change of hairdo), and who's notched up a point and a half in Iowa polls, Taibbi is spot on: The election, after all, is nearly a full Martian year away, with a Super Bowl and two World Series still to play out in between -- which means that the "urgency" of breaking campaign news is now and will remain for at least a year an almost 100% media concoction.
On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency has authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant (some called it a strong rebuke of the Bush administration's policies), George W. Bush saw fit to ramp up his language on the issue of global warming (hint: the new key word is "serious"): The decision (of) the Supreme Court we take very seriously. It's the new law of the land. I've taken this issue very seriously. I have said that it is a serious problem. I recognize that man is contributing to greenhouse gases. But, despite this outpouring of concern, the Prez kept to old-school thinking, arguing that "anything that happens cannot hurt economic growth." (Clearly, nobody gave him any of the the reports on the enormous costs that we will likely bear as a result of climate changes, or for that matter, the compelling memos that have been circulating about the economic opportunities the climate challenge presents to those with a touch of "American ingenuity.") The American public, on the other hand, appears more ready than Bush to embrace new thinking when it comes to solutions. Republicans and Democrats alike broadly embrace actions to curb emissions. Based on a March telephone survey of 1,009 American adults, ages 18 and older, Gallup reports that an overwhelming majority supports stronger government restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. And, majorities, regardless of political persuasion, say we should spend more tax money to develop alternative sources of fuel and energy.