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Grasping the Real Climate Equation

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJune 13, 2009 8:28 AM


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Liberal bloggers need to get a better grip on why the issue of climate change doesn't resonate more with the American public. Yesterday, Matt Yglesias lamented that

the political moment of possibility for climate legislation has coincided with an enormous recession.

Yeah, we know that. The fact is, environmental concerns always wane in an economic downturn, which as Yglesias noted, is borne out in this latest Pew report. So I can't understand why he goes off track when he concludes:

The trouble is that what the public wants is basically a fantasy"”a policy that will let us avoid paying the costs involved in coping with the climate crisis.

No, what the public wants more than anything is for the recession to end. The bottom line: people are more worried about finding a job and holding on to their homes than they are about protecting the environment today, much less in fifty years, when the bill for climate change is expected to come due. So the problem is really twofold: people care less about the environment in hard times and they care even less about what the weather is going to be like in half a century. That's the paradox of climate change: it's widely considered an urgent problem that must be addressed now, but global warming can't be felt by the average American. Even experts concede that the worst impacts aren't expected to hit for decades. That's why there are two-hour prime time TV specials to help us imagine what this distant future may look like. Curbing carbon dioxide emissions and adapting to climate change is going to be ulta-complicated on so many levels. But it'll be that much harder if people don't tackle the right equation--that being the uniqueness of a pressing environmental problem that can't be felt today, combined with a harsh economic landscape that reduces the public's ability and willingness to be more farsighted about this problem.

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