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Fresh Ideas: Americans burying heads in sand on climate issue

Anne Macquarie
For the Nevada Appeal

Last month India and China signed a major agreement on combating climate change, and the government of the Maldives held an underwater cabinet meeting to sign a document calling on all countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (The Maldives are diverting a significant portion of tourist revenues to a savings account to be used to buy a new homeland when sea-level rise as a result of global warming, leaves the entire nation without any land to stand on.)

Next month at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, nations will attempt to hammer out solid agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In the Oct. 22 issue of USA Today, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on all nations to start “turning the tide on climate change, just as the Unity movement turned the tide on apartheid.”

On Oct. 24, millions of people in more than 180 countries held events publicizing the goal of “350,” that is, 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a safe level (we’re now at 390), in advance of the Copenhagen talks.

But in an international poll conducted last summer by the University of Maryland, the USA ranked dead last in the question, “How high a priority should addressing climate change be for your government?” We came in just behind Iraq and the Palestinian Territories. In another poll I read, 25 percent of Americans “don’t believe” global warming is human-caused, while 15 percent “aren’t sure.”

I can understand that Iraqis and Palestinians might think that their governments should have higher priorities – like rebuilding nations torn by war – but what’s with Americans? We are a great nation that used to be full of dreamers, schemers, inventors and do-ers, now it appears many of us are ignoring one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced.

I think it’s because we have been subjected to years of loud, harsh climate-change nay-saying and name-calling. There’s a certain television network. Certain commentators. A certain senator from Oklahoma. To use Vice President Spiro Agnew’s famous and alliterative quote, voices of “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

The emerging consensus is that the economic harm of doing nothing about climate change will outweigh the cost of action to address it, and moreover that actions to slow or reverse climate change will lead to economic opportunity for those who are creative and move fast.

China is rapidly becoming the largest supplier of solar panels in the world. The wind turbines going up throughout the American Midwest are made by Spanish and Danish companies. Scary and exciting times to be alive – unless you’d rather bury your head in the sand.

• Anne Macquarie, a private sector urban planner, is a long time resident of Carson City.