Rename the coast!

John D. Wilson | April 27, 2009 | Climate Change

Nate Silver is a master at visualizing the obvious in politics, and he’s branched out to offer a keen insight for those of us working to address the global warming crisis.

This chart, adopted from a very interesting new survey (Climate Change in the American Mind) of 2,164 American adults on climate policy, reveals part of the problem that advocates of more aggressive measures to curb climate change may be encountering as they seek to push forward initiatives like cap-and-trade.  . . . Americans are concerned about global warming in the abstract — but perhaps only in the abstract. Just 32 percent of Americans think global warming will harm them “a great deal” or a “a moderate amount” personally.

While only 32 percent of Americans feel personally at risk to global warming, almost twice as many feel that “future generations of people” will be harmed at least a “moderate amount.” The report doesn’t say if the 32 percent are mainly the young (then those two findings might actually be consistent with each other). What it does suggest is that people tend to view global warming more as a legacy, than a present danger.

Which is a pretty reasonable point of view for an American with a decent standard of living.

As I reflected on this finding, I recalled the many instances where wealthy individuals decided that they would bequeath their family property, money, or some other gift to benefit future generations. Universities are masterfully finding ways to name practically everything in sight as a way to raise funds to pay for capital projects. And notably, universities have a reputation for designing more sustainable buildings than their private-sector counterparts. People want their legacy to last . . .

So here’s my suggestion: Rename important sections of the coastline for people or institutions who have a chance to make a difference today. How about the (Senator Kay) “Hagan Outer Banks?” Or (Duke Energy CEO Jim) “Rogers’ Rivershore Road” in Elizabeth City, NC? Or the “Southern Company Light Station at Tybee Island,” Georgia? Maybe if we rename everything then enough people’s legacy will really be at stake.

John D. Wilson
For more than a decade, John has directed SACE’s research activities and led SACE’s utility reform campaigns. He often represents SACE in formal or informal stakeholder engagement with utilities, and…
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