America’s Anti-Environmentalists

As an American, I am appalled, ashamed, and embarrassed by my country’s lack of leadership in dealing with global warming. Scientific evidence on the risks mounts by the day, as most recently documented in England’s magisterial Stern Report. Yet, despite the fact that the United States accounts for roughly 25% of all man-made global carbon emissions, Americans show little will or inclination to temper their manic consumption.

The first George W. Bush administration was probably right to refuse to sign the so-called “Kyoto Protocol,” albeit for the wrong reasons. Among other problems, the Kyoto Protocol does not go far enough towards redistributing carbon emission rights towards developing countries. But why can’t the US bring itself to raise taxes on gasoline and other sources of carbon emission like coal burning power plants? It is not like the US government, running a huge deficit despite an economic boom, does not need the money.

Many people seem to think that the Bush administration is the problem. Put a Texas oilman and his buddies in charge and what do you expect, conservation? Unfortunately, that is a facile excuse.

American citizens’ resistance to moderating energy consumption for the sake of the global environment is much more deeply embedded. Consider former US Vice President Al Gore, for example, whose documentary film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, is celebrated for its unflinching look at how fossil fuel consumption is leading mankind to the brink of catastrophe. The evidence on global warming is considerably more muddled than Gore’s film suggests, but the basic problem is real.