Why Grassroots Initiatives Can’t Fix Climate Change

A grassroots approach alone won’t make the earth stop warming

by the Editors (Scientific American magazine)

Have you heard enough already about global warming? It’s so … last year’s news! Plenty of people are “doing something” about it. Becoming carbon-neutral has gone as mainstream as Girl Scout cookies; help is on the way. Can we move on, please?

Unfortunately not. For all the consciousness-raising value of grassroots initiatives,  the world is still far from squarely facing up to the issues. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama promise on their Web sites to reduce carbon emissions to just 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2050—a laudable goal. But because what matters is the load of greenhouse gases in the entire atmosphere, reaching those numbers would be hard, to say the least, for the U.S. to do alone. John McCain’s Web site simply offers “commonsense approaches to limit carbon emissions by harnessing market forces that will … see to it that … all nations do their rightful share.”

If the candidates’ statements—perhaps out of political necessity—are short on specifics, the reason is partly that much of the electorate still finds it hard to grasp the size and urgency of the problem. Like the naive passengers on board an ocean liner, who lean carelessly over the rail as their ship drifts into an iceberg, most of us are oblivious to the magnitude of the impending disaster. The separation closes too slowly for us to appreciate the force of the coming crunch.


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