Most people yawn at global warming

08/30/2014 12:00 AM

08/29/2014 5:36 PM

My July 27 column reviewing the progress made in improving our region’s air quality and that of the entire state and country produced sharply different responses.

Some commented that they weren’t aware of the information I shared, while others challenged data in reports presented by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Most of all, the comments underlined the complexities that confront the public whenever environmental issues are the topic of discussion.

Whether it is air quality or any of the other areas of our environment, public interest quickly wanes in working through the intricacies of where we stand after four decades of implementing the most aggressive programs of environmental protection anywhere on the planet.

The fact that we are living longer, healthier lives as a result of how successful that process has been is something a lot of people just don’t seem to realize.

Competing extremes, media bias and political wrangling create such an atmosphere of controversy that people are often just tuning out.

That may explain why you hear so little about environmental issues from candidates seeking our support throughout all levels of government. Political consultants say the topic has no “legs” and that voters aren’t casting ballots based on the issue that, for many candidates of any party, is a no-win proposition.

Take, for instance, the historic and legally unsettled actions by the EPA to address global warming by regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Congress has passed no new law that specifically authorizes the agency’s sweeping new rules designed to control carbon dioxide releases from power plants and principally from the ones that burn coal.

Opponents to such initiatives have labeled them as the Obama administration’s jobs-killing “war on coal,” and the whole business has shifted into the judicial branch of our government.

Earlier this month, 12 coal-reliant states became the latest to file suit saying the EPA’s interpretation of their power to regulate was without legal authority. Others point out that the agency’s own data show little, if any, reduction of global temperatures as a result of the new rules.

What does the general public think of all of this? The highly regarded Pew Research Center conducts an annual scientific assessment asking people to identify the “top priority” they want the president and Congress to address, and the results teach us a lot.

The survey offers 20 priorities to choose from and “dealing with global warming” gets ranked by respondents as No. 19. As you might expect, the top three are, in order, “strengthening (the) nation’s economy,” “improving job situation,” and “defending against terrorism.”

Office seekers don’t spend much time talking about how they would deal with something in which voters have so little interest.

Whenever people read non-intuitive declarations such as The New York Times reporting United Nations findings last week that warming is producing historic droughts and extreme volumes of rain, their eyes may roll.

The result is understandable ambivalence and skepticism of a human-caused climate emergency so urgent that the survival of the planet is at stake.

Apparently, the world’s two largest countries, each with populations about a billion more than ours — China and India — aren’t buying into the crisis. They are doing next to nothing to deal with it.

For the time being, we are witness to the unfolding of a process that has some familiar characteristics to times past as environmental policy has developed through all the controversy that accompanies it.

Only one thing seems for sure: The current issues of climate change are a very long way from being settled.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. mayorgreene@mayorgreene.com

About Richard Greene

Richard Greene

With long experience in government including 10 years as mayor of Arlington, an adjunct professorship in UT Arlington's School of Urban and Public Affairs and service as President George W. Bush's regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Richard Greene is an expert on public policy, politics and decision-making on issues facing North Texas.

He has strong opinions about elected officials and those who would like to join them.

Email Richard at mayorgreene@mayorgreene.com.

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