Whoever thinks making a big deal out of Alaska’s unusually warm summer shifts the national climate discussion please click on her or his computer.
OK, you 10 people can probably stop reading now. The rest of us are going to have a frank discussion about why the War on Global Warming hasn’t sold in these United States, and you might not like what you read.
Here are five reasons the issue can’t get the traction necessary to bring about political change:
Number five: Advocates for climate-change action sound too much like President Donald Trump. They paint a black and white picture of a very gray world, and then assure all those who refuse to agree with everything they believe that unless we act we’re all going to die because climate change is yuuuuge!
Anyone with a clue as to human history knows how unlikely this scenario. We’re more adaptable than rats and more resilient than cockroaches. Global warming is likely to cause chaos in places and spark yet more wars in Africa and Asia.
And millions could die, but this idea that all of humankind is doomed is a bridge too far.
The pitch is probably good for reinforcing a base of 30 or 35 percent of the American citizenry. And if you’re running for president in an election against another flawed candidate, a solid base that size requires only a 15 or 20 percent slice of the undecided middle – a little less if you play the electoral-college game right – to get elected.
Only climate-change action doesn’t depend on a popular vote. It depends on popular consensus. Zealotry tends to undermine consensus. Jim Jones sadly managed to convince about 900 people to drink his poison Kool-Aid, but most people thought he was preaching nonsense.
Too often in their well-meaning stridency, advocates for climate change come off more like fundamentalist preachers than advocates for rational change.
Number four: Americans are technocrats. We put a man on the moon for Godsake, and we’re now talking about putting one on Mars.
And the solution to global warming is for all of us to scrimp and sacrifice to solve the problem? Imagine how this plays to Nat Nobody in Arizona:
“You want me to give up my big, comfortable, gas-guzzling SUV because the temperature hit 90 degrees in Anchorage on one day this summer and crowd onto a bus with a bunch of sweaty, smelly other people?
“Here’s some news for you: Phoenix is 90 or warmer about half the year, and people seem to survive just fine. I’m sorry, but if you’re hot up there in the north invest in air conditioning like most Americans.”
If you’re a climate activist, it is easy to dismiss this as ignorant or selfish or thoughtless or whatever, but it’s also very American. It’s not in our blood to suffer through our problems.
Americans find solutions. Americans fix things. And Americans lead the world in making life more comfortable. The folks who invented the Barcolounger are not going back to stiff, unpadded, hard-backed seats.
Number three: Too many climate change advocates come off as hypocrites. Think of how Al Gore flying around the world on climate-changing aircraft to lecture others on how “they” need to cut back their use of fossil fuels looks to blue-collar, working Americans.
The likely reaction of Joe Sixpack?
“Hey Al. Dude, maybe your pitch would carry more weight if you took it on a cross-country run like Forrest Gump. Maybe you could start at the southern tip of Florida and jog to the northern tip of Alaska, or as close as you can get, to provide a shining example for Americans on how they can help in the war on climate change.
“All that exercise would be good for you, too. By the time you get to Alaska, you might have thinned down enough that none of the local Natives will mistake you for a beluga and put a harpoon in you.”
Number two: Way too much effort and way too many electrons are wasted worrying about the Arctic. Nobody cares about the Arctic. So the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, or six times as fast or 600 times as fast.
Most of America could not care less. The Arctic only distracts from real climate change issues like the loss of water in the American West where a lot of people live.
The Arctic is a hinterland. The largest city in the Arctic is Murmansk. It’s in Russia. It has a population of about 300,000 people. It is smaller than St. Louis, a city that sits smack in the middle of what is known as “fly-over country.”
But at least people flyover. If they look out the windows of the airplane, they can at least see signs of some sort of civilization down there.
When you fly over the Arctic, which few do, there’s little to see but the wild. It’s the last empty place on the map in a world now more focused on the full places – Paris, London, Shanghai, Tokyo, New York, London, St. Petersburg.
For most Americans, the Arctic is up there somewhere north of Canada where people beat baby seals to death and worry about being eaten by polar bears. Most Americans would like to see the seals and polar bears survive. But if that means somebody has to walk 10 miles to work tomorrow, forget about it.
Instead of worrying about climate-change action, a lot of Americans worry about climate-change action upsetting their 401K, their IRA, their pension fund, their stock portfolio or the economy in general.
“Climate change action” is, to them, just three other words for “nothin’ left to lose.”
It’s why the support for climate-change action skews young, and why some might outgrow it. The problems of the future always pale against the problems of the here and now.
Consider that humans went hundreds of thousands of years before the conservation movement took root. Why?
Because it’s easy to talk about protecting deer or salmon or ducks so they can breed and produce more in the future, but if you starve to death this year, it isn’t going to matter what comes back next year or in future years.
The conservation movement didn’t arise until people could afford to conserve. It’s still struggling in significant parts of Africa and Asia because people can’t afford to conserve. Conservation is a luxury of the economically successful.
Climate-change advocates might want to give this some serious thought. Too many of the economically successful in this country today see climate-change action as more of a threat to their futures than an opportunity.
Maybe it’s time to start talking about the economic opportunities in climate adaptation, and there are opportunities. The world is slowly but steadily starting to go electric. The shift is driving technology to both find new ways to generate electricity, store electricity and use it more efficiently.
The climate-change agendas that sell are those that provide Americans goods they want to buy or that lift the economy overall. Maybe we’d make some progress if we talked more about how to achieve those ends than about the falling sky.