Rename the coast!

Nate Silver is a master at visualizing the obvious in politics, and he’s branched out to offer a keen insight for those of us working to address the global warming crisis.

This chart, adopted from a very interesting new survey (Climate Change in the American Mind) of 2,164 American adults on climate policy, reveals part of the problem that advocates of more aggressive measures to curb climate change may be encountering as they seek to push forward initiatives like cap-and-trade.  . . . Americans are concerned about global warming in the abstract — but perhaps only in the abstract. Just 32 percent of Americans think global warming will harm them “a great deal” or a “a moderate amount” personally.

While only 32 percent of Americans feel personally at risk to global warming, almost twice as many feel that “future generations of people” will be harmed at least a “moderate amount.” The report doesn’t say if the 32 percent are mainly the young (then those two findings might actually be consistent with each other). What it does suggest is that people tend to view global warming more as a legacy, than a present danger.

Which is a pretty reasonable point of view for an American with a decent standard of living.

As I reflected on this finding, I recalled the many instances where wealthy individuals decided that they would bequeath their family property, money, or some other gift to benefit future generations. Universities are masterfully finding ways to name practically everything in sight as a way to raise funds to pay for capital projects. And notably, universities have a reputation for designing more sustainable buildings than their private-sector counterparts. People want their legacy to last . . .

So here’s my suggestion: Rename important sections of the coastline for people or institutions who have a chance to make a difference today. How about the (Senator Kay) “Hagan Outer Banks?” Or (Duke Energy CEO Jim) “Rogers’ Rivershore Road” in Elizabeth City, NC? Or the “Southern Company Light Station at Tybee Island,” Georgia? Maybe if we rename everything then enough people’s legacy will really be at stake.

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The survey findings are useful but disturbing, given the American mindset. If people view climate change as important mainly in terms of impacts beyond their lifetimes, while continuing to cultivate values that marginalize the future, we will suffer costly policy delays that will greatly amplify the destructive consequences of climate change.

Making legacy dedications that commit future efforts to resolving climate change problems, unless translated into actions in the near-term (such as borrowing from future legacy revenues to effect reforms), will fail to support timely action. Preoccupation with prolonging profits from reckless practices, such as burning coal and spreading sprawl, will only propagate our self-deluding negligence.

appears to be the legacy that


Comment by David Kyler, Sustainable Coast on February 11, 2010 7:48 am


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