It's not that Americans don't believe in global warming, they are just afraid of what it means to their way of life. The potential economic consequences of climate change are so great in the US that people are willing to deny empirical evidence and make all forms of illogical statements to reject the fact that the earth is warming. Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance.
Europeans and Americans have polar opposite views of global warming. Polls show less than one-third of the US population believes climate change is a "serious problem" compared with a near supermajority of EU voters (31% vs. 63%). 87% of the EU considers global warming a serious problem! Americans rank it 21st in important issues for government while in the EU it is 2nd!
Why this bipolar perspective? There are two reasons why Europeans accept the significance of global warming:
- Not an Out of Sight Out of Mind Problem -- Unlike the US, Europeans see the empirical evidence of glaciers receding in their countries or know their governments are actively preparing for the potential damages (e.g., Netherlands, Venice, and Thames River project); and
- Burden on Industry NOT Individual - For Europeans the economic implications for mitigating global warming has a minimal (indirect) affect on their personal lives. Europeans always have been taxed to the bone for fuel, electricity, and automobiles for no other reason than increasing government revenues (e.g.,7.50 a gallon for gasoline). These higher prices have driven down consumption of the major sources of greenhouse gases -- cars and electricity. For the EU, the Kyoto Protocol was just placing controls and goals on Industry.
It is easy for voters to accept national policies that minimally affect their pocketbooks and lifestyle. For the US, the Kyoto Protocol, and thus global warming, was an assertion that we in the U.S. should wrap ourselves in sackcloth and ashes for our use of cars and electricity. Fighting global warming means a direct assault on pocketbook issues and our lifestyle.
Europeans can be accepting while preservation of our present way of life makes denial a healthy psychological defense against the potentially dire implications.
Yet, here is the perversity of our thinking. Name one hypothesized economic consequence from accepting the actions necessary to mitigate global warming that have not already happened. Gasoline is up 95% AFTER inflation since the Kyoto Protocol. The price of oil is now $100 a barrel, an increase of 300% since 1997. There is not a food commodity (or any commodity) that has not risen at a rate 5 to 10 times inflation. There really is no economic fear of accepting global warming because we are living the economic consequences without any planning by the government.