Being at Duke, we all probably realize that we are pretty much living in an echo chamber when it comes to issues like climate change. The overwhelming majority of us in this bubble here will likely agree that climate change is human made (as do 97% of scientists) , and poses a threat to our continued existence if nothing is done about it. But yet as it stands, nearly half of Americans don’t believe that climate change is man made. America is one of the richest countries in the world, with one of the most “educated” populations in the world – but yet how can so many people think this way, despite concrete evidence? I was suddenly curious – was this problem limited only to America? Did other countries also have large amounts of climate change deniers? I personally hypothesized that perhaps countries that have economic reliance on fossil fuels (which is mostly developed nations) are perhaps more likely to have a larger portion of the population deny the human impact of climate change, due to dominant internal politics of that nations.
I found it surprisingly easy to look up the statistics of climate change opinion by country. Wikipedia had a table listing all the countries from first to last – and just at a cursory glance, it seemed immediately clear to me how low America ranked on that list (where higher up on that list indicates a higher portion of the population supporting the fact that climate change being man-made). What surprised me even more, is that so-called progressive European nations like Germany, United Kingdom, and France, all had similar percentages of climate change deniers to the United States (at about half the population, if not more!). I took a look at an analysis by Pew Research, and they concluded my suspicions – according to them, “People in countries with high per-capita levels of carbon emissions are less intensely concerned about climate change”. This makes sense – if you are emitting a ton of carbon, you likely depend on it, and perhaps are unwilling to give it up. Internal politics within those nations are likely to keep this going. It is simply too economically “worth-it” for these nations to make any change, especially if they are not immediately affected by climate change.
I’m not going to lie – I am quite pessimistic in this issue as a whole. I don’t actually think that the world can come to a consensus in quick enough of a time to regulate carbon emissions worldwide. Well-meaning environmentalists scattered throughout the developed world might put pressure on their own governments to change, but it simply will never outweigh the immediate economic benefits of mining fossil fuels. The current pressure on countries like India/Bangladesh and other developing nations to curtail their activities such as population growth is hypocritical, and in the large scale – not impactful to the scale of saving the planet. The average American emits over 35 times the carbon of the average Indian (who already consumes somewhat more relative to other developing nations). It is clear that the developed nations have done much more to impact climate change in a negative way than most developing nations can ever dream of. Putting the burden on the developing nations is not reasonable, unless it is facilitated by the developed nations themselves.
I personally think that for this issue in particular, the best solution we will have is if our technologies advance to the point in which clean energy is so economical, that it makes no sense to mine for fossil fuels, IN THE SHORT TERM, as well as the long term. Most people care about the short term more than the long term (unfortunately) – this is why green energy hasn’t picked up the steam it should have, despite arguments by scientists on the benefits in the long term. Science can save us – green energy needs to be viewed by the capitalistic market as the sole economically viable choice.
Wike, Richard. “What the World Thinks about Climate Change in 7 Charts.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 18 Apr. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
“Climate Change Opinion by Country.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.