Last Tuesday witnessed two major initiatives on the climate change battle front. In the Twin Cities, the Environment Minnesota faithful heard cogent explanations from Professor Mark Seeley and Frank Kohlasch why the effects of climate change need to be addressed—and soon. Later that day President Barack Obama outlined his three-fold plan to combat environmental change due to global warming.
Their impact—negligible. The President’s speech was buried in the middle of the nightly news broadcasts. Reaction to the Environment Minnesota presentations was best summarized by one exasperated audience member who wondered what more was needed “for the motivation to do something.”
These responses resembled the bureaucratic reactions of adaptation and mitigation identified by Al Gore in his latest book, “The Future.” Mr. Kohlasch, Air Assessment Manager of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, advocated a “step-wise procedure” in which no more money and human capital would be invested in adaptive methods. President Obama was more detailed. To “build a smarter, more resilient infrastructure,” he declared that his administration would provide no future public financing for new coal plants that emit carbon dioxide.
While both presentations identified what is and what will be done on an administrative level to address climate change, both also acknowledged the difficulties to be overcome and government’s limited abilities to address them. The energy industry and other special interest groups have great financial and ideological investments in maintaining the status quo. As President Obama stated, “we can’t just drill our way out of our energy problem.”
To the average American solutions to the energy problem, climate change, and other environmental ills appear more draconian than the current flawed system. People are psychologically predisposed toward keeping short-term survival strategies in keeping with the folk wisdom of preserving the adversary one knows than exchanging it for something one does not. Despite the evidence in Gore’s book, Kohlasch’s speech, and hundreds of other presentations, the appeal for change fails if it remains strictly at the rational level.
Obama’s greatest asset upon entering office was the hope his new administration inspired. For various reasons—political exigencies, the banking crisis, personal values—that hope did not encompass global warming during his first term. On Tuesday he identified climate change as “one of [America’s] greatest opportunities,” but his speech contained no “I have a dream” moments. Many voices speak on behalf of combating climate change, but none have Martin Luther King’s charisma to galvanize concerted action from people holding a variety of viewpoints. Until such a champion is found, the threat of climate change destroying mankind remains a distinct possibility.