Sunday, June 10, 2007

On Black and Green - At no point since 1850 have blacks exceeded 15 percent of the total U.S. population; the African American population reached its high-water mark in 1790 with 19.3 percent of the total. During the 1950s to the 1970s, approximately 10-11 percent of Americans were of African descent, as contrasted with approximately 13 percent presently. Percentages notwithstanding, a small but dedicated cadre of liberation-minded blacks and others struggled to surmount both internally and externally imposed obstacles. Their efforts reached a crescendo during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and continue at present - although in a significantly altered form, as much of the heavy lifting done these days is done by black conservatives (if not by name, then certainly by attitude and behavior.)

Contrast the historic changes in the attitudes and behaviors of Americans vis-a-vis race with those displayed by Americans as it regards the environment. Data from a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll (as seen on of 1,028 adults notes that 54 percent of Americans believes that "[g]lobal warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from cars and industrial facilities." Similarly, 33 percent of 1,002 respondents to an ABC News/Washington Post/Stanford University poll said that global warming/climate change "is the single biggest environmental problem the world faces today."

That same poll indicated that 70 percent of Americans believe that "the federal government should do more than it's doing now to try to deal with global warming." (53 percent of respondents said that they trusted the Democrat Congress to do a better job of handling "the environment overall," with 59 percent feeling that Congressional Democrats would handle global warming better.) Gallup data from 1,009 respondents indicates that 66 percent believe that the environmental movement has "definitely" or "probably done more good than harm."

The interesting paradox underlying all of this is the fact that despite Americans being aware of the environment as an issue, they still seem personally unmotivated to act in any meaningful way beyond sorting paper from plastic. To be sure, fossil fuel consumption has remained steady or increased as gasoline has shot above $3.50 a gallon in many areas. And according to data from the Pew Research Center, global warming and the environment seem to rank behind other priorities for both Republicans and Democrats.

Roughly twice as many Democrats as Republicans say that dealing with global warming should be a top priority for the president and Congress this year (48% vs. 23%). However, the issue is a relatively low priority for members of both parties, as well as for independents.

The issue of dealing with global warming rates near the bottom of the priorities list for both Democrats and independents, and is the lowest priority for Republicans. Notably, there is much greater support, across the political spectrum, for the broader goal of protecting the environment. Two-thirds of Democrats (67%) view protecting the environment as a top priority, and it ranks near the middle of their policy priorities list. Many more independents and Republicans also rate protecting the environment an important priority than say the same about dealing with global warming.
Indeed, global warming - and the environment more generally - rank behind things such as terrorism, education and the economy for Republicans and health care costs, the economy and terrorism for Democrats.

So what gives? What accounts for the disconnect between the attitudes and behaviors of Americans as it pertains to the environment? My sense is that most Americans are well aware that
many if not most of today's environmental thought leaders are in fact rank hypocrites. This is especially so when environmentalists are considered in contrast to, let's say, civil rights workers who offered their livelihoods and (sadly for far too many) their lives in order to break the back of racial hegemony in this country. To be hectored about all things environmental by the likes of Al Gore, Laurie David, Sheryl Crow or Leo DiCaprio is to know that God sometimes has a wicked sense of humor. Given what we know about Gore's global warming related business interests in particular, listening to his preachments allows me to imagine what it would be like if it was discovered that MLK had slaves working as domestics in his home.

Whatever their specific credentials, environmentalists in general, and global warming advocates more specifically, seem to be the least credible - and therefore the most ignorable - spokespeople for their respective causes. When a rock star tells us that we should only use one square of toilet paper per trip to the loo, we dismiss her as an out of touch rock star. So to when a multimillionaire chairman of an international investment company tells us that we need to reduce our CO2 "footprint" so that he can expand the footprint of his bank account, we ignore his entreaties out of hand. It appears that the days when environmentalists would hoist themselves into trees to make their points are long gone. This crop of environmental all-stars comes across as not much more than, well, hot air.

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