News & Media Opinion Pieces Can we expect climate change in the US?

Can we expect climate change in the US?

by David Shearman

Doctors for the Environment Australia is in the business of educating and attempting to understand the human mind so we can enhance human health and wellbeing. One of our most difficult tasks is to understand the psyche of our closest ally the US. It is not a waste of time to put ‘pen to paper’, because strange as it may seem some of our articles and material is picked by web sites in the US.

The Bush era has been written off as the Dark Age for American contribution to the advancement of humanity but will it be any better after November 2008? Will the assault on North American biodiversity be curtailed and will the US government’s inaction and indeed obstruction of action on climate change be reversed? Wilderness areas and parks have been opened to oil exploration and logging; environmental protection has been rolled back.

The current election campaign has not been a healthy one for biodiversity. The “dominate nature” approach continues. Reading the election speeches, biodiversity is mentioned in the following terms

My father taught me to shoot 100 years ago.” — “I shot a banded duck,” Hillary Clinton
“I’m pretty sure there will be duck hunting in heaven, and I can’t wait.” — Mike Huckabee
“I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.” — Mitt Romney (it was then pointed out he had never had a licence!)
 Abama—no bragging yet
Oh what brave guys or gals they are!

But the really bad news for biodiversity comes from the state of West Virginia where state lawmakers gave final approval this week to a bill that allows hunting education classes in all schools. Michigan, Nebraska, South Carolina and Utah have enacted laws since 2004 lowering or removing minimum age requirements for hunters, while Louisiana, Montana and Georgia have amended their constitutions to protect the right to hunt and fish. Apparently thirty states have no minimum age to begin hunting, but all require supervision or the completion of hunter education courses. Among the 20 states that have age limits, most require children to be 12 before they can hunt big game, which often involves using a rifle or shot gun and can include targeting white-tail deer, wild turkeys and black bears.

Climate change? This is mentioned only en passant by the Presidential candidates. However what they do mention is positive, all three recommend large reductions in emissions by 2050. The public is not taken with the issue for it ranks as 21st on the list of important issues. Nor is the press interested. A survey which analysed 3200 questions put to the candidates by the press found only 8 related to climate change.

A big event this week tells us that the ant-climate change activists and deniers are hard at work and gaining plenty of press space. The Heartland Institute held an International conference in New York City, March 4. The conference was held to “call attention to widespread dissent in the scientific community to the alleged “consensus” that the modern warming is primarily man-made and is a crisis”. (Conference official web site)

A key note speaker was the President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus who grew up under communism and believes that the push for radical societal change and expansion of government power being proposed in the name of fighting global warming represents a massive new threat to liberty. In his book, “Blue Planet in Green Chains – What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?” Klaus indicates “it is our freedom and our prosperity”. Klaus believes that ideological environmentalism appeals to the same sort of people who have always been attracted to collectivist ideas.
Heartland receives big funding from ExxonMobil and has close ties with the tobacco industry.


The events described above are not unrelated. In general the US citizen is besotted by the freedoms of liberal democracy and has accepted their curtailment only with the threat of “terror” there is more interest in climate change as a security issue than for any other reason. Elsewhere in the public domain the tragedy of the Commons holds sway. It is man’s (I use the male gender deliberately) freedom to exploit the global commons as he sees fit whether with hunting or Hummer driving. Indeed, this psychology dictates attitude to health services where collective need (public hospital services) has little support in contrast to the individualism of private medicine. Protection of an ideological position is more important than providing health care to the poor as Hillary Clinton found to her cost. Many Americans believe that climate change is a left wing plot, hence Vaclav Klaus is feted.

If one looks at the advances on climate change made in the US, these are mainly due to leadership of individuals, the Governor of California and those of some smaller states and the Mayors of big cities. The ability of a new President to act on a promise to significantly reduce emissions is more problematic. A President can do little without support of Congress composed of representatives who are highly influenced financially by the Corporate lobby. Many independent US thinkers state that corporatism is the real government of the US. We perhaps need to remind ourselves that this was the lobby that plotted a military coup on Franklin Roosevelt because they saw the New Deal as a plot to reduce their influence!

What can we do apart from hope and pray? Climate change action is now urgent and so solutions need courageous leadership. We can stress the importance of our leaders taking these issues to our ally. Mr Rudd will do this and he must be supported. DEA has members who write excellent letters to the press here and in the UK. Please have a go in the US press, we will record each of your successes in our newsletter. In general Americans are well disposed to us though some have confused us with Austrians, and we therefore write to them from a favoured position. Remember, this is a health issue that affects all Australians.

David Shearman

The views expressed in this article are my own. I have lived in the US, have been on Medical Faculty in an American University and I use US publishers.