The Politics May Kill Us

Interstate 66, west of Washington, DC

The Challenging Politics of Climate Change

 How the Climate Crisis Is Killing Us, in 9 Alarming Charts

 Americans Increasingly See Climate Change as a Crisis, Poll Shows

 Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution leads off her piece on climate and politics with a great quote from Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live (10/13/18):

We don’t really worry about climate change because it’s too overwhelming and we’re already in too deep. It’s like if you owe your bookie $1,000, you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got to pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie $1 million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just going to die.’

So there are many reasons Americans (in particular) resist climate change, and Kamarck goes on to document these in a lengthy but very worthwhile essay you should read. In the most recent decade of Gallup’s polling, for instance, we learn that “almost half of the public believes that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.” A series of natural disasters and dramatic weather events leaves the public mostly unmoved. Jobs, the economy and healthcare top their list of concerns.

Then there’s partisanship. And the complex nature of the climate crisis. Plus jurisdiction and accountability: who’s responsible? by whose laws? And the lack of trust in government—at a new low since the administration of G.W. Bush. Finally, our elites demonstrate a lack of imagination, such as described by Amitav Ghosh in The Great Derangement (reviewed here): we don’t talk about climate in fiction or television or film. Is it too threatening?

Matt Simon in Wired tells us how climate is slowly killing us, referencing a massive study in The Lancet, a medical journal, on climate change and human health. Says one of the authors about living in a world 4 degrees warmer than in preindustrial times:

We have no idea what that looks like from a public health perspective, but we know it is catastrophic. . . . We know that it has the potential to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health and overwhelm the health systems we rely on.

Simon’s series of graphics should properly scare you. Here’s one:

Scorched by Heat Waves

On he goes, with measures of wildfires roaring, diseases blooming, air conditioning heating up cities, crops declining, etc.

In the face of all this a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll tells us that “A growing number of Americans describe climate change as a crisis, and two-thirds say President Trump is doing too little to tackle the problem.”

About 8 in 10 “say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects. Nearly 4 in 10 now say climate change is a “crisis,” up from less than a quarter five years ago.”

That story was posted September 13 of this year, Kamarck’s on September 23. So who’s right? With a well-earned mistrust of polls, I vote for Kamarck because she uses a wider time spread.

We have a lot of work to do.

2 Replies to “The Politics May Kill Us”

  1. Better than Colin Jost is the story of the frog sitting in warming water until he/she/they get boiled to death. While your post points out public opinion on the climate change tropic, I am not convinced changing public opinion ultimately matters as much as changing the understanding of those who will first be harmed. I remain dumbfounded from that small part of the last Democrat debate when the topic of should those harmed by climate change be compensated by the government (which is to say us) for their loss. The coastal elites who own the beach front houses no doubt think that is a good idea, but I doubt if it is attractive to the flatlanders unless they live in a flood plain. Compensate folks for harm done, rather than preventing the harm. What a great American idea!

    1. Compensation is a dumb idea, I agree, and of course we all would pay for bailing out the fools who built in the flood plain. The point of the Colin Jost story is not that we are all waiting to be boiled alive like dumb frogs but that we are all fools who get in over our heads despite knowing better.

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