Photo: out of ideas via Flickr/CC BY
Europeans seem to understand the severity of the threat posed by climate change a bit better than we Americans do. A new poll shows that the majority of Europeans consider it the second gravest problem facing the world, right after poverty. Those crazy Euro folk evidently think global warming is even more of a threat than the current economic crisis -- and remember, Europe is in the throes of what could potentially be a much more calamitous financial meltdown than the one we're facing on this side of the pond ... 68% of Europeans rate climate change as a "very serious" problem, according to the Eurobarometer poll (pdf). The Guardian reports that the poll
suggests that the majority of the public in the European Union consider global warming to be one of the world's most serious problems, with one-fifth saying it is the single most serious problem. Overall, respondents said climate change was the second most serious issue facing the world, after poverty.
Connie Hedegaard, European climate commissioner, said: "This is encouraging news. The survey shows that the citizens of Europe can see that economic challenges are not the only ones we face."
This is telling. Even as the Eurozone faces the possible collapse of its currency and the existential threats that entails, citizens are still more worried about the longer-term havoc that would be wreaked by the disruption of the global climate system. In other words, they have their priorities in order.
The same cannot be said about Americans. As the fiercest free-market devotees in the industrialized world (at least ideologically speaking) we refuse to even consider having a cogent political debate about climate change, for fear that it would mean impairing economic growth, until we're certain the economy is booming. Climate change consistently ranks near the bottom on the lists of Americans' concerns, and our politicians either cowardly skirt the issue or flat-out deny it exists. We read Roger Pielke Jr.'s "Iron Law" of climate policy, which states that "When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time," as gospel.
Yet economic fluctuations will come and go. But once we've dumped enough carbon pollution into the atmosphere to provoke any number of feedback loops (thawing permafrost, vanishing ice cover, etc), our climate system will be broken for generations to come. Europeans understand this better than Americans, and have managed to not only recognize the threat, but to reduce emissions while growing their economy. Novel idea, isn't it?