Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Guilting the Public is Not a Global Warming Solution

Throughout the past 18 months, the environment has seen a resurgence in the hearts and minds of voters as the reality of global warming hits home. However, on the heels of chronic inaction, governments and environmentalists are now riding a fine line towards voter backlash.

Public sentiment has been punctuated by two factors: rising environmental concern and a desire for leadership and solutions. In the face of rising greenhouse gases and a complete lack of accountability from industry, the public have been seeking action from elected officials - action that will make a seriously impact on emissions and begin to stop a looming environmental catastrophe.

Instead what we have seen is an utter unwillingness and inability on the part of both elected officials and environmental campaigners to hold industry to account, while all responsibility for the stewardship of nature is dropped onto the lap of the individual citizen. This trend is threatening to squander a rising environmental concern and alienate the people who genuinely want to be part of the solution.

Skeptical? Read on. In the past weeks policies have come forward that take a hard line on leaf blowers and lawn mowers, backpackers are being told how to go carbon neutral, and air travel, which accounts for just 3% of world's emissions, has been inexplicably cornered as a pariah in the fight against greenhouse gases. All of these actions have a single result. They guilt, restrict and constrain the behaviour of you and I, the citizens who genuinely want environmental solutions, while giving a free pass to the fossil fuel and automotive industries who are the real source of global warming.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are boasting a war chest that is growing ten times as fast as the Liberals. When an election does come, this will be money targeted directly at moving public opinion away from the environment and in discrediting opposition leaders who choose to support it.

Both governments and environmentalists need to refocus quickly by increasing pressure on industry and calling for solutions that will genuinely solve the global warming problem. The public wants action and they are willing to do their part, but they will not be content to shoulder the work load for shirking corporations pulling in unprecedented profits on the wings of soaring greenhouse gas emissions.


kitimat said...

Industry in Canada needs nothing less than a hard cap system to freeze and begin reducing GHG emmisions. Without a level playing field corporations will be reluctant to take measures which their competitors are not also obliged to. Individual initiatives such as removing incandescent bulbs or leaf blowers can help, but they will mean little if our total GHG output continues to increase. These initiatives may even be harmful when politicians use them to claim progress, without creating meaningful targets for industry. Canadians need to pressure our politicians to legislate a hard cap system. And as consumers we need to reward those companies which choose to act responsibly.

lance said...

Ya huh.

Top four GHG producers in Canada are power companies.

How again is it an industry problem instead of the public?


The Mound of Sound said...

I fear you're right about the Harper agenda. That said, I'm not troubled by the focus on individual responsibility. I think once we get the message at the individual level we'll all take a much more focused view of industry. You ahd I and every guy out there with a Hummer need to take the load to bring home the reality of this situation. As long as we're spared, public opinion won't be mobilized to demand action.

Chantelle said...

I agree that both governments and environmentalists need to refocus. Citizens shouldn't have to shoulder the entire work load for the man.

Speaking of climate change awareness, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you’ve seen the ads for the Live Earth concert series. This 24-hour, 7-continent series of 9 concerts sounds pretty cool and personally, I’m looking forward to seeing the Black Eyed Peas and John Mayer (luv him!).

I checked out the website ( and I actually found some neat stuff on it like the “Green Tip of the Day.” The site’s best feature is the live feeds from each of the cities hosting events so I can watch John Mayor live on my lap top. I can even go back and see any performance I want again via VOD. Rock on!

Sue said...

In response to "lance";

Cutting GHG emissions by the electricity generating industry requires social/governmental action to restructure industry, not just enlightened individual consumer action.

I can replace all my light bulbs with compact flourescents (already done that), forgo air conditioning in favor of fans (ditto), keep the thermostat turned below 65 degrees in winter (again already done), invest in newer energy efficient appliances (working on that), and all my neighbors can do likewise, and that will be a good thing. But what would make far more difference is if the government of Kentucky (my state of residence) would stop artificially reducing the cost of coal for generating electricity making it insane for any electricity generating business in Kentucky to consider doing anything but build more old fashioned coal fired plants. First Kentucky needs to remove the huge tax breaks it gives electricity companies (industry) for burning Kentucky coal; then the state needs to make coal companies pay the true costs of the horrendous environmental impacts of mountain top removal and strip mining. The ability of coal companies to push the true cost off on local communities in destroyed health, quality of life and property values is what makes coal so cheap. The combination of tax breaks and environmental nearsightedness is what allows Kentucky utilities to sell electricity for about 5 cents a kwh.

Focusing on individual consumer behavior ignores the systematic government and industry arrangements that make electricity generation the largest producer of GHG.

Odiyya said...

Big time. The way i like to look at it is, imagine how cheap wind and solar power would be if it was subsidized to the same degree that fossil fuels and nuclear are. It wouldn't even be a contest.

Kevin said...

Thanks for putting this in real perspective. I get tired of hearing people saying that if we stopped idling our cars in drive thru's that everything would be better. The idling of cars can be solved by owning a Prius.

The problem with corporations is they'll use the media to change the spin or make us focus on something. That's a big challenge because they then refuse to take responsibility.

jp said...

Well, 60% of car waste/energy goes to the making (even of a Prius). Cosmetic individual actions moved by liberal guilt address the issue, but again, it's to the major players that I believe the focus should go to.

Daniel M. Kurtzman said...

Greetings. I am new to this blog, and want to respond to Odiyya’s post of 7/4/07. Although I have no dispute with any of the actions proposed, I want to point out what I consider an assumption that is central to the post but is misleading (at best). The phrase "will solve the global warming problem" is simply incorrect. I am not quibbling, but the actions proposed (although critically important) will mitigate only the very long-term consequences of climate change and will do nothing to stop (or even slow) the short-term (next 30 years) consequences. No amount of carbon output reduction will stop the various feedback systems that are already in place and are, effectively, self-sustaining and accelerating. For example, mitigation will not stop (or slow) the melting ice caps and glaciers, the consequent loss of albedo effect, the consequent increasing warmth of the atmosphere, and the consequent increased melting of ice caps and glaciers. If you agree with my pessimistic view, then the course of action is to a) aggressively promote mitigation efforts; b) begin to plan for consequences of accelerating climate change and c) begin to address the means of adaptation to the requirements of both.

Lord Straf-Dresden said...

The heading says it all. They're going to offload the corporate greed onto the ordinary person.

Odiyya said...

To Daniel M. K.

Thanks for stopping by, and for the thoughtful note. Nothing you propose about the reality of global warming I would dispute. However, your interpretation of what 'solving the global warming problem' means is just one take. First, note i did not say "solving global warming". The problem to be solved is slowing it, changing our economies to be more sustainable, and a spiralling emissions trend. In no place am I talking about stopping global warming from occuring. we're already past that point.

More importantly, your critique hits the number one problem with discussion of any progressive issue. People who are calling and fighting for solutions need to stop taking two paragraphs to say what can be communicated in three words.

Outside of a select 5%, readers eyes are going to glaze over if we start dwelling on 'albedo', 'mitigation' and 'feedback systems'. In short, we'll have lost the audience and any opportunity to affect change, for the simple reason that the majority of people won't be listening....they'll just keep quoting deniers every time they say "global warming is a hoax" and leave it at that.

This is a big issue. One that will be posted on in more detail in the coming weeks. For a starting point, interested readers should check out Don't Think of an Elephant under my Must Reads list.

The Pyramid said...

To restore balance, it may be helpful to look at the other side of the coin. Consider, for example (and links):

Hyperbole is a wonderful thing, but clear thinking is still essential.