14 Ways People Will React To Climate Change: How Accurate Were Our 2005 Predictions?

green crystal ball to predict how people will react to climate change illustration

It's time to own up to my performance as a climate impact prognosticator. Back in the spring of 2005, I wrote 14 Things People Will Do When They Realize Climate Change is Real. It was a tongue-in-cheek look at the possibilities, ranging from outrageous to practical. Have a look at how well I did, guessing what people will do "when they realize climate change is serious." Indented items are from what I wrote back in the Spring of 2005.

THEN:- 1. TreeHuggers get on the radical efficiency message and stay on it, forcing public officials to take seriously the "Soft Path" of Amory Lovins, et al. Multiple industry lobbies come to realize that this route is better for them than any other "one off" solution that targets only a single technology. People get behind it because it keeps jobs at home.
NOW...It's too early in the game for radical efficiency to have any real traction. There are some positive indications, but so far...no telling how it will go. Must learn to keep that optimism in check. Opening Round Score: 0 for 14. Gulp.

THEN:- 2. Millions of people get really interested in Green Building. TreeHuggers get appointed to planning commissions and zoning boards, looking for off-the-web opportunities to promote it's resource efficiencies and attractive comforts.

NOW:- Hit the green building nail on the head. I even got myself appointed to a planning commission! Cumulative Score: 1 for 14.

THEN:- 3. Rising demand elevates the price of many eco-efficient products beyond the means of the low income households. This leads to distinct brand segmentation around price and performance.

NOW:- If this happened, it was masked by general inflation, devaluation of the dollar, and high energy and metal prices. Cumulative Score Remains 1 for 14.

THEN:- 4. Renewable energy stocks, on average, steadily grow at a far greater pace than even the best fossil fuel companies, leading to an "irrational exhuberance" for alternative energy stocks on the part of Wall Street stalwarts.

NOW:- Got this one almost perfectly. With corn ethanol at the front of the irrational exhuberance pack. Cumulative score: 2 for 14.

THEN:- 5. New cults appear that rely on climate change dread for recruitment and fundraising, blaming environmentalists for incurring the wrath of God, while applauding Armageddon.

NOW:- Only got this half-right. Environmentalists were certainly blamed for climate change by a handful of Think Tank "experts" and 'religious spokespersons'. But, no climate doomsday cults have yet emerged, thank God. Cumulative score: 2.5 for possible 14.

THEN:- 6. Some TreeHuggers sit by, content with scapegoating.

NOW:- Umm yes. You purity commenters know who you are. Score: 3.5 for possible 14.

THEN:- 7. Voters beg government to "do something." Consequently, a huge number of hair brained solutions proliferate from the US Congress.

NOW:- Not yet. Plenty of hair brained stuff from Congress dealing only with energy security and fuel prices. But, so far, the make-like-a-sulfur-volcano thinking is limited to a few nutty professors. Score remains at 3.5 out of possible 14.

(Please note that various members of Congress support Gas Tax Holidays and Drilling Our Way Out Of All Problems. They also make up stories about China drilling for oil near Cuba. And, the whole lot has a very low public approval rating. Who could guess what they'll do when they realize climate change is real?)

THEN:- 8. US Balance of trade is made more negative as US consumers shop increasingly overseas for the best and most beautiful eco-efficient goods.

NOW:- If this happened, it was masked by currency valuation swings. Score remains at 3.5 out of possible 14.

THEN:- 9. TreeHugger servers crash under onslaught of site visits.

NOW:- Yes they did. And, we were rescued by Discovery. Score stands at 4.5 out of possible 14.

THEN:- 10. Owners symbolically burn their own SUV's in downtown streets after a brief period of gas shortage.

NOW:- We've heard rumors of increased insurance scams. And, recently we posted about a person asking what to do with an abandoned SUV? So far no outrage filled protest burnings. Score stays at 4.5 out of a possible 14.

THEN:- 11. The difference between political right and political left is blurred by the common interest in environment. "Bad Weather Friends Syndrome" fosters tremendous grass roots communication, collaboration, and organizing.

NOW:- Definitely some progress on this one. Giving evangelicals a big part of the credit. Score goes up to 5.5 out of a possible 14.

THEN:- 12. Extensive top-of-market real estate speculation arises in regions that, long range models predict, will see relatively minor adverse impacts.

NOW:- People are leaving the exurbs, moving toward civilization, though not because of climate impacts. Mostly driven by energy costs. Score stays at 5.5 out of a possible 14.

THEN:- 13. Rush of businesses to hire creative TreeHugger-types.

NOW:- Absolutely. Score goes up to 6.5 out of a possible 14.

THEN:- 14. Increased numbers of sham or badly designed "green products" coming to market.

NOW:- Oh yeah. And green-washing all over the place...to the point of creating disgust. Final score is 7.5 out of a possible 14.

Half-right ain't bad, considering that it may just be a matter of time for some of them.

What else will people do when they realize climate change is real and serious?

Image credit::Governing.com, green crystal ball.

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