I have written here several times about the fact that the U.S. crossed a tipping point in 2006 regarding global warming. It is now a subject that a majority of Americans have awareness of and are concerned about. As with most large issues that are complex, it often takes time for the citizens to understand and to then take action. If it can be made personal or emotional the process is accelerated. Global warming is no different.
Two or three years ago, when I was discussing global warming, the enormity of the problem and the developing urgency to act, I found that many people, even intelligent and socially aware people did not fully see the problem. Since it was not readily apparent in their lives it was more of an abstract concept to be discussed and debated. Is it real? What can I do? How serious is it really? Is humanity at cause? This was a most common point of view if one was not a committed environmentalist. Back then I came upon a rationale that always created alarm. Regardless of the person to whom I was speaking I started to ask if they were a parent, and if so, how old were their kids. If the age of the kids was under 15 I basically said that the reason to be concerned about global warming was that there was a significant possibility that their grandchildren might not live out their natural life, or if they did so, their later years would be lived in a dangerous world of turmoil and upheaval. This argument always provoked a reaction. I could see the alarm behind the eyes.
The point of view quickly became: well global warming might not deeply affect my life, but if I don’t start doing something about it and supporting efforts to slow it down, my grandkids might be at serious risk. Make it personal. That seems to always mobilize the populace around complex, seemingly distant issues or problems. This is now a line of reasoning that I am sure most of you have heard.
In addition to the making it personal approach, the other way to mobilize around a “distant” issue is to weigh in with the “warm and fuzzy”. Right now the warm and fuzzy of global warming are polar bears. Reading widely, and consuming lots of information to ascertain developing patterns as I do, I have been struck by the fact that there is not a week that goes by that I don’t read an article on the developing extinction of the polar bear. It seems that one of the most common images today is that of a polar bear standing on a floating ice floe surrounded by water. This reminds me of the time a couple of decades ago when the animal rights movement became turbo charged because of the horrible images of the clubbing of those oh so cute baby seals. This is where our fascination with celebrities can help a cause. Then it was Bridget Bardot standing in front of the baby seals. Now it is Leonardo DiCaprio with the polar bears.
In recent days there was a report, released by the United States Geological Survey that said that even under the most moderate predictions of global warming, fully two thirds of the polar bear population would die due to the disappearance of Artic sea ice. It was reported that Artic ice covered 1.7million square miles as of this month, which is down 350,000 square miles from the 2.05 million square miles that existed exactly two years ago.
The key point of the report, particularly for those that still feel no urgency around the issue of global warming, was that even in the highly unlikely event that all the major economies in the world were to begin an immediate and rapid and severe reduction of carbon dioxide, there is so much in the atmosphere already that the floating polar ice cap would continue to shrink for the next 50 years. This would eliminate much of the polar bear habitat. According to this report, the summer Artic ice retreated more in the past year than in any year since measurement began in 1979. Of course this story was accompanied by a picture of a polar bear standing on a small floating ice floe. I am sure that the picture prompted many to read the news articles regarding this report.
Clearly what is needed is new, visionary and committed leadership in Washington and in other capitols around the world to mobilize a massive effort to reverse humanity’s contribution to global warming. In the U.S., it looks as though that will have to wait until 2009. Until then work the grand kid angle and support warm and fuzzy reporting to further mobilize citizens to become ever more aware in their own lives and ever more demanding of politicians running for office to create a Marshall plan or a Manhattan project to stem global warming.