Global warming greeted by yawns in U.S. | AspenTimes.com
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Global warming greeted by yawns in U.S.

A national poll conducted to coincide with Earth Day today shows that Americans are well aware of global warming. They just aren’t very concerned about it.

The Gallup organization measured concern over environmental issues between March 8-11 and found that 51 percent of Americans worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about global warming. That’s down from 58 percent in March 2003.

About 47 percent of respondents both this year and last said they worry “only a little” or “not at all” about global warming, according to the Gallup Tuesday Briefing, a branch of the famed national pollster.

Leading conservationists in the Roaring Fork Valley weren’t surprised by the results, but they find them frustrating.

Randy Udall, director of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency in Aspen and Pitkin County, said that while global warming’s consequences are already apparent, future generations will really pay for the baby boomers’ legacy of producing so much carbon dioxide.

“The full damage is going to be borne by future generations even though the damage is being done by us,” Udall said.

Scientists estimate that each baby boomer will produce 1 million pounds of carbon dioxide over their lifetime, according to Udall. That CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a century after it is produced. So consequences such as rising sea levels will take hundreds of years to play out, he said.

If the CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are produced were visible or created an odor, the Americans polled by Gallup would be much more concerned about taking immediate action, Udall predicted.

Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs for the Aspen Skiing Co., said it’s no surprise that Americans’ level of concern over global warming dropped over the last year considering the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The public is understandably distracted from environmental problems and other issues, he said.

But he also sees signs that consciousness is growing. A bill to address climate change has the approval of about half the U.S. Senate, he noted. European countries are making huge strides in reducing their CO2 emissions.

“They are convinced of this issue because all of their glaciers are toast,” Schendler said.

The Gallup Tuesday Briefing results showed it’s not so much that Americans need convincing that global warming is a real phenomenon, they are just complacent about the seriousness of it.

“About half of Americans, 51 percent, believe that the effects of global warming have already begun to occur, while another 5 percent believe they will start within a few years, and 12 percent expect these effects to happen at some point in their lifetimes,” said a press release from Gallup.

“Only 18 percent believe the effects will be postponed to future generations, and just 11 percent are completely skeptical, saying that deleterious effects from global warming will never happen. Gallup has not observed any significant change in this assessment over the past seven years,” the press release continued.

Aspenite Russ Andrews doesn’t doubt that global warming is occurring, but he challenges the assumption that man is playing a significant role in climate change. He also fears that proposals to reduce CO2 emissions would cripple the U.S. economy. Andrews is a financial adviser who has made it a passion to research global warming and challenge environmentalists’ view of the issue.

He cited research which shows that it would cost the United States $100 billion annually to implement the Kyoto Accord on Global Climate Change, which the Bush administration has rejected. It would cost another $100 billion annually in fines for noncompliance, according to the research Andrews cited.

He believes that is too big of an investment for something that might not even provide a solution to climate change.

Andrews cited research that shows humans create only 4.5 percent of the CO2 sent into the atmosphere annually, or about 7 billion of the 160 billion tons.

Udall doesn’t dispute Andrews’ statistic. But he believes mankind must reduce its contribution. He likened the earth’s CO2 production to a person’s weight. There is a healthy weight to maintain. Going beyond that weight can have dire consequences.

“If you gain 4 pounds per year eventually you’re going to be fat,” Udall said.

Similarly, if mankind keeps contributing 4.5 percent of the CO2 emissions, many believe, it will have dire consequences for the health of Earth.

Udall said he believes evidence of global warming in the Roaring Fork Valley has been apparent in the 30 years he’s lived here. Anybody who has gardened over that period would likely agree that the growing season has gained roughly 10 days. The snow seems to “magically disappear” in springtime rather than gradually run off.

Elsewhere, Lake Powell’s value to boaters will be reduced this year because it is less than half full.

Udall, who has helped institute conservation programs with CORE that have gained national attention, said there are easy steps people can take to reduce their CO2 emissions – buy wind-generated electricity and buy vehicles with higher fuel efficiency.

A vehicle that averages 20 mpg produces 1 pound of CO2 for each mile. An SUV that gets half that mileage produces twice as much carbon dioxide. A high-efficiency vehicle that gets 40 mpg emits a half pound of CO2 per mile.

Purchasing a “block” of wind power from Holy Cross Energy at an extra cost of $2.50 per month helps reduce emissions by 2,200 pounds per year, Udall said.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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