Over the last two years, doubts about climate change have risen in the U.S., while concerns that it is a serious threat have dropped. One survey found the number of Americans “dismissive” of global warming had more than doubled since 2008 to 16%.
Such statistics are likely due to several factors, including the economic downturn, the negative hype surrounding “Climategate,” and the IPCC’s flawed glacier report. But when the overwhelming majority of earth scientists say global warming is occurring, why is scientific evidence still unable to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis to a large portion of the American public?
On this 40th anniversary of Earth Day, let's step back a moment and take stock of the situation.
With taxes on the mind this month, some homeowners are discovering just how much investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy can pay off.
When Congress last year passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), better known as the stimulus package, it gave homeowners some powerful financial incentives for greening and weatherizing their homes.
How much? In the case of Barbara Gardner, a long-time homeowner in Sacramento, Calif., the local and federal savings added up to almost half the cost of a solar power system — and she erased her utility bill, once $1,100 a year, in the process.
On a recent visit to Yunnan Province in southwest China, I was pleasantly surprised to see solar water heaters on countless home and building rooftops, even in remote rural villages. These installations, featuring an array of tubes and a storage tank, use the sun’s rays to produce hot water.
Today, China is the world leader in solar water heater (SWH) production and installation, but SWH is now catching on in the U.S., too.
The International Energy Agency projects that global energy demand will increase 46 percent by 2030, requiring an investment of $26.3 trillion in energy infrastructure to meet the expected demand.
Revamping our energy system and doing so with more renewable energy will take substantial funding, and while some countries, like China, are investing in the whole cleantech pipeline, from “lightbulb to lightbulb” — from idea to implementation, as Google puts it — the U.S. is investing in cleantech only sporadically.
“We need to invest across that whole spectrum, and we need to make that sustained,” said Bill Weihl, Google’s Green Energy Czar.
Google, for one, is putting its money where its mouth is.
While the new year is inspiring individuals and businesses to think about going green, some corporate giants have already made green resolutions and are delivering the goods.
One driving force behind this shift toward sustainability may come as a surprise to shoppers: Wal-Mart. The retail colossus, long criticized for using its heft to obstruct workers’ access to unionization, adequate health care and better wages, and to push big box stores into communities, wiping out small businesses, is now using its clout to send sustainable ripples all the way down its supply chains.
At the heart of its effort is a scorecard that will eventually measure the environmental and social impact of each item on store shelves.
Despite economic uncertainty, the biggest global corporations are investing 3-5 percent of annual revenues in clean tech solutions, and they are poised to invest more, according to an Ernst & Young survey.
With such private investment increasing and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s (ARRA) infusion of over $80 billion into the clean tech sector, the road ahead is looking green.
So, where does the clean tech job market stand today?
This fall, 50,000 Massachusetts power customers are getting their first energy report cards in the mail. Just as in school, they’re being judged against their peers, with the model citizens getting smiley faces and the laggards getting advice for cleaning up their acts.
Until now, these homeowners could only judge their own energy use by their month-to-month bills. The new Home Energy Reports (HERs) compare their energy use to that of neighbors with similar demographics and similar size homes.
Officials hope the peer pressure encourages users to take a few simple steps to stop wasting electricity — and money.
Starting Tuesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer will be launching a marathon week of hearings in her Environment and Public Works Committee on the Senate’s version of a climate and energy bill.
It comes as new evidence from the Arctic shows climate change is occurring more rapidly than scientists predicted just a few years ago, and as Greenpeace warns President Obama that Congress is on track to undermine his promise of a clean energy future.
Many advocates, including Greenpeace, believe the House and Senate bills aren’t stringent enough to deal with the urgency of the situation.
But there is another argument for taking advantage of the political moment and putting climate change legislation in place, even if it’s not perfect.
Ask Americans if something should be done to stop global warming and close to three-quarters will say yes. Getting them to act on that belief is something else.
Only 8 percent say they’ve taken the step to contact their political representatives, according to a poll by Yale and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.
That paradoxical state of America’s consciousness has drawn the interest of social scientists and psychologists who are captivated by the challenge of how to engage the public and policymakers on climate change.
Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association issued a report based on an examination of decades of psychological research on climate, conservation and environmental beliefs and actions. Its conclusion: Psychologists should take a greater role in helping communicate and break down the psychological barriers that are keeping people from accepting the science behind climate change and taking action to stop it.
"What is unique about current global climate change is the role of human behavior," said task force chair Janet Swim of Pennsylvania State University. "We must look at the reasons people are not acting in order to understand how to get people to act."
Could something as simple as white roofs actually make a dent in our carbon emissions and help curb global warming?
Physicist Steven Chu, our Nobel Prize-winning Secretary of Energy, thinks so. At the St. James's Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium in London last month, he pushed for a global initiative to lighten the color of roofs, roads and pavements to cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of taking all cars off the road for 11 years.
As residents of hot countries have known for centuries, buildings painted white stay cooler because they reflect the sun’s heat. Light colored materials reflect more solar radiation, including visible, ultraviolet and infrared light (which accounts for most of the heat), than dark materials which absorb heat. Albedo, the gauge of solar reflectivity, is calculated from 0.0 to 1.0, with 1.0 being the highest measure of reflectivity.
Maximizing the number of high albedo surfaces around the world could significantly help cool the planet, said Chu, former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).