Want to cut emissions in the US? Change the discussion
In times of war, the US government has successfully appealed to citizens' patriotism. That can work now, too.
Though discussion of climate change has been high on the domestic and international agendas, the sad truth is that little has been done to fight it.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
So far, only a global recession has been shown to work when it comes to cutting emissions. As the Obama administration prepares for the Copenhagen summit, it needs a new message if it wants to convince America that we must cut carbon emissions and end oil addiction.
Since the start of the debate on policies to fight climate change, the case for lowering carbon emissions has been couched in environmental terms. If we do not act, the argument goes, the world will suffer the long-term consequences of our failure. Low-lying countries will be flooded, crops will fail, tropical diseases will spread, irreplaceable flora and fauna will face extinction, and hurricanes will get more violent. Though true, this is not the way to convince American voters that they will have to pay more to fill their cars' tanks, heat their homes, and fly.
The way to get Americans to take action? Appeal to their patriotism.
Historically in times of war, the US government has successfully gotten citizens to join the armed forces, to buy war bonds, and to accept rationing by appealing to their patriotism.
The Obama administration should begin by asking Americans to curb their oil use. Fighting global warming entails curtailing oil consumption. Given the location of the world's petroleum reserves, when Americans pull out their credit cards at the gas pump or pay for their heating fuel, they indirectly fund Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear and missile programs, enrich Muammar Qaddafi (while he rants at the UN against the United States, and give assistance to Vladimir Putin as he threatens American interests in the Caucasus and Central Europe.
Other beneficiaries of American oil imports include Hugo Chávez's Venezuela and Ahmad al-Bashir's Sudan – not to mention Al Qaeda, whose financial backers include many who would be penniless were it not for fossil fuels exports. At the very least, without their petroleum exports all these countries would be far weaker.