What will it take for America to wake up to the threat of climate change?

Open for Questions

President Obama hosted an interesting experiment yesterday. On his Open For Questions site, he requested people to submit questions to him and vote on submitted questions. Subsequently, in a special online Town Hall, he answered several of the most popular questions – fabulous stuff.

However, despite hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans, one of the US’s best known cities and now Fargo and many parts of North Dakota under threat of 43 foot floods, the top two questions in the Green Jobs and Energy category were related to legalising marijuana, not climate. Wtf?

Unbelievable, to me at least.

92,935 people submitted 104,032 questions:

  • 7,444 were in the Green Jobs and Energy section.
  • 2,136 contained the term “Marijuana” (another 31 contained “Marajuana”, 6 contained “marijana”, 7 contained “marijuna”)
  • 262 contained the term “cannabis” (and another 9 contained “Canabis”)
  • Only 294 contained the term “Warming”
  • And a measly 207 contained the term “Climate”


I used to think Jonathon Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future and chair of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, was being a bit extreme when he said:

I have occasionally fantasised about a low mortality-count scenario where a Force Six hurricane takes out Miami, but with plenty of warning so the entire city is evacuated with zero loss of life. The insurance industry in America would collapse because this could be a $50-60 billion climate-related ‘natural’ disaster. The industry wouldn’t be able to cope with that. There would be knock-on pain throughout the global economy, massive, traumatic dislocation. This would act as enough of an injection of physical reality, coupled with financial consequences for leaders to say: ‘Ok, we’ve got it now. This isn’t just about some nasty effects on poor countries: this is devastating for our entire model of progress.’ The response to that would be a negotiated transition towards a very low-carbon global economy that builds increased prosperity for people in more equitable and sustainable ways.

But, unfortunately now, I’m not even sure that’d do it.


  1. gianni says

    I know it is monstrous – a good script for the beginning of another sci-fi movie. If you look around you will find tons of example of social behavior that collectively could be dubbed as callous: child abuse, food safety, and in general tons of examples of the moral hazard of an aggregate huge intergenerational Ponzi scheme.
    What will it take for people to act?
    First, let’s hope that governments do what they’re supposed to do and act despite having the electorate pointing a gun at their head
    Second, given I trust governments to do point one – but to a point – pressure should mount. Typically, the people who will be most vocal will be those more directly impacted, namely a) the young generations and b) those who suffer from those issues today. Finding and supporting those who fall in categories a) and b) will help create the beginning of the snowball. People like AVAAZ,, and the agricultural communities who suffer already should be enough to prime the pump.
    You can then enslist all sorts of cleantech vendors – they should be able to sustain the thing until the public and the public sector cannot get off the hook anymore.