Americans feel less empowered to stop climate change — because they’re doing the wrong things

Americans feel less empowered to stop climate change — because they’re doing the wrong things

Last week, the world celebrated: Americans are increasingly concerned about global warming! Hurrah! Four out of five Americans understand that climate change poses a serious threat — up 7 percent from 2009. Which means that by 2020 or so, 100 percent of Americans will be convinced, perhaps even including the 1 percent (Congress).


No one looks at these anymore.

But, alas and alack, there are storm clouds brewing. (Figuratively, in addition to whatever the North Atlantic has in store for us next year.) Another poll or survey or whatever suggests that Americans also feel impotent about being able to address the problem. That’s America for you, bouncing from hope to despair between new episodes of Three and a Half Men.

From the Times:

Americans may be buying more compact fluorescent light bulbs these days, but they are less likely to set their thermostats low during the winter than they were four years ago and have less confidence that their actions will help to curb global warming, according to a new survey.

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that the proportion of people who say their own energy-saving actions can make a difference in arresting global warming dropped to 32 percent in the latest survey, conducted in September, from 37 percent six months earlier.

So, following this trend, by 2015 no one at all will think we can do anything personally. That’s encouraging.

Sixty percent said energy-saving habits could help curb climate change if they were adopted by most Americans, down from 78 percent in 2008; those who say they believe that warming can be slowed by changes in personal habits across the industrialized world dropped to 70 percent from 85 percent over the same period. …

Only 15 percent of respondents say they have volunteered or donated money over the last 12 months to help reduce climate change, while fewer are avoiding buying products made by companies that oppose efforts to curb global warming, according to the survey, for which 1,061 adults across the nation were interviewed between Aug. 31 and Sept. 12.

Happily, our beloved, smart, attractive readers are in that 15 percent.

But, look, here’s the thing. These respondents are largely right! As the Energy Information Agency notes, in 2011 residential customers only used 22 percent of the nation’s energy (which includes fuels and electricity). The bulk of what America consumes is taken up by business and industry and transportation.


Even if it were just residential customers, there are still 300 million Americans. One person out of 300 million taking action is .00000003 percent. That tiny percent doesn’t make a huge difference, and thousands of accumulated tiny differences are almost impossible to see.

Perhaps the most important line in the Times coverage of the survey is the last one.

[T]he number of people who say they talk about global warming with their family and friends – 29 percent – is heavily outweighed by the 71 percent who “rarely or never” do so.

What Americans really need to do in order to make a difference isn’t only to adjust thermostats and recycle. It’s to engage on the issue politically. Not just some half-hearted petition-signing which spurs the president to nod at you, but actual political engagement and outreach.

Which we will get to right after this show.


Fewer Americans Say Their Actions Can Slow Climate Change, New York Times

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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Americans feel less empowered to stop climate change — because they’re doing the wrong things

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