Environmentalism: What We Really Think

In New York magazine, Kurt Andersen has an excellent look at the state of environmentalism, based on a Gallup Poll that came out this week. The poll, in all frankness, doesn’t seem to have gotten much below the surface. It does indicate that a vast majority of Americans (89%) recycle, and a substantial majority have endeavored to reduce their energy use this past year (85%). But it doesn’t get into specifics, so it’s impossible to tell how serious these respondents really are about their stated beliefs.

Anderson’s analysis goes past the sketchy statistics, making two points that deserve to be remembered, even if the data to support them can’t be shown:

Americans have also come to take climate change seriously, I think, partly as a result of George Bush’s strenuous discounting of the problem. Since his administration’s main claims about Iraq have proved spectacularly false—the 9/11 connection, WMDs, Mission Accomplished, the insurgency’s “last throes”—an intuitive syllogism has naturally taken hold among Americans: If Bush asserts something, no matter how sincerely, then probably the opposite is true.

This goes along with Michael Tomasky’s theory (by way of Heraclitus) about Obama’s popularity: he’s the Anti-Bush. Makes sense to me.

Anderson also notices a strange similarity between two numbers:

There is still a minority of dead-enders, those 27 percent of Americans who insist to Gallup that global warming is nothing to worry about now—a number strikingly similar to the fraction who approve of the job Bush is doing.

He concludes:

As a political matter, we probably have a decade to lock into place new regimes of regulation and market incentives. Which happens to be the same do-or-die time frame that a lot of scientists believe we have to start getting gassy modern life back in balance with the Earth’s natural systems. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this looks to be the ultimate test of our national character: Do we fat, spoiled 21st-century Americans have the requisite gumption and discipline to be born again, and then do what’s necessary to try to keep the planet from going off the rails? I’d say the odds are 50-50.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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