Thursday, December 1, 2011

White noise

One of the things I remember as so striking when I lived abroad was the realization of just how insular the U.S. really is. Despite the fact that we are constantly inundated with news stories twenty-four hours a day and there are few respites from some sort of media, most Americans know shockingly little about the rest of the world. When we do happen to pay attention to international issues, you can be sure that there is some reason that can be traced back to how it affects us. Wars in the middle east, financial crises in Europe, Arab spring, we know about them to the extent that they affect us. It would be easy to dismiss this because every nation does the same thing. Maybe to a certain extent that is right but it seems fair to say that here in the U.S. we live in our own little bubble and are further removed from international engagement than other nations can afford to be.

The Durban meetings are the 17th time the 192 nations part of the UNFCCC have come together in one room to try and solve some of the most pernicious aspects of climate change. Since 1992 the confidence in the science behind what we know and what is likely to occur has never been higher. There is a steady drumbeat from scientific organizations around the world that indicate some type of coordinated action is needed if we have any hope of forestalling catastrophic changes that will occur to some (but not all) parts of the world.

Despite all of this, any awareness of climate policy here in the U.S. has intentionally or unintentionally been drowned in the background hum of the various media assaulting us on a 24/7 news cycle. It is off the map.

There is no better indication of this the fact that for the first time in years, there are no members of Congress attending the climate negotiations. Not even Sen. Inhofe from Oklahoma who attends most years simply to deny the existence of climate change has booked a flight to Durban. At what point will we perceive that this is an issue that deserves our attention and engagement? With little to no federal support for international cooperation on climate and virtually no popular awareness or pressure on the government to do so, why would Americans be involved?

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