Less than a decade ago, global climate change was one of the hottest hot button issues in the United States. Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth was a testament to that, inspiring a whole generation of Americans to demand action from their elected leaders. Today, the topic seems to have all but disappeared from the mainstream political conversation. Job creation and economic development are the new priorities, with government turning a blind eye to the frequency and unpredictability of the extreme storms and natural disasters we have seen in recent years. This shift has left scientists and environmentalists all over the world scratching their heads, wondering “has America truly forgotten about climate change?”
There is a consensus among the international scientific community: average atmospheric temperatures have reached record highs, causing potentially irreversible changes in the Earth’s normal weather patterns. Furthermore, there isn’t a credible scientific body today that disputes the fact that fossil fuels are at the core of the problem, and all nations must act quickly if anything can be done to slow the process. Still, the big energy giants (the coal, oil and gas industries) insist that climate change is a natural phenomenon. They use their influence to block regulatory constraints, and have been manipulating our national energy policy this way for over a century.
Policy makers are the ones who find themselves caught in the middle of this debate. They are charged with the task of striking a balance between protecting public health and safety, growing the economy, and providing their constituents with affordable resources to meet the nation’s growing energy needs. To complicate matters further, coal mining and drilling for oil has a very real cultural significance for many American families. In these challenging economic times, politicians know that they must be careful not to marginalize the millions of American voters for whom coal and oil are the foundation upon which they have built their livelihoods for generations.
So where is the compromise? When asked if they support the development of renewable energy resources, many Americans say yes, we need to modernize our energy grid and move away from dirty fossil fuels. Yet many of the same individuals complain that the price of energy is too high, and look to their government to keep costs under control. In response, the Feds give hundreds of millions in subsidies to Big Coal and Oil every year, while renewable energy projects like large scale wind are blocked time and time again.
The time has come for individuals to step up in a way that hasn’t been seen before. Big Oil and Big Coal are powerful industries, which use their money and influence to make campaign contributions, control the conversation on greenhouse gasses, and dominate our national energy policy. Now, more than ever, it is up to members of the public to hold the system accountable. By organizing themselves, people can show their politicians that climate change is still a relevant issue. Making careful decisions about where and how they spend their money allows consumers to influence markets to move towards sustainable technologies that minimize human impacts on the planet. If the United States is going to start taking meaningful steps towards reducing carbon emissions and generating more renewable power, it may take just as much of a commitment from the American public as it would from our government. In this world of corporate influence and economic uncertainty, we can’t just sit back and expect politicians to make the right decisions for us, especially if we can’t decide what’s really right for ourselves.