An Update on Global Warming

Climate Change and the Election

Global Warming — a.k.a. Climate Change — is today’s most prominent global environmental issue. Proponents see Global Warming a code-blue emergency. Opponents see it as overreaction at best; an outright fraud at worst.

Chuck - Glacier BayThrough his first term, President Obama consistently advocated actions to forestall Global Warming by reducing America’s emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), particularly carbon dioxide generated by burning fossil fuels. However, during the long and tiresome campaign prior to Obama’s re-election, neither he nor his challenger really discussed Global Warming. Today’s most prominent global environmental issue wasn’t a substantial factor in the debate!

Why? Because the actions necessary to achieve GHG emissions reductions are (quite reasonably) perceived as contrary to near-term economic growth. Neither side wanted to been be seen (or positioned by their opposition) as thwarting near-term economic growth. Then, a few days before the election, Hurricane Sandy inundated New York City, northern New Jersey and part of Connecticut. Al Gore, the former Vice President and vociferous Global Warming Cassandra, blamed the storm on Climate Change.

A “National Conversation”

Immediate and comprehensive press coverage of the extent of the storm’s damage put Climate Change back on the national agenda. At a press conference [1] a few days after the election, the President announced his intention to open his second term with a “national conversation” on Climate Change. It isn’t clear what Obama intends from such a “conversation”. He has made it clear that he wants initiatives to reduce GHG emissions. However, at the press conference, he said: “If the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

Why the ambiguity? An updated survey report from the Pew Research Center helps to clarify. Each year since 2006, Pew Research has surveyed individuals on their views on Global Warming [2]. The individuals surveyed span the spectrum of American political views. The latest survey was conducted in October of this year. Here are the key results:

Pew Climate Change Survey - 2012

Figure 1 tells us that about 40% of those surveyed consider Global Warming to be a “very serious” problem, while another 22% regard Global Warming to be a “somewhat serious” matter. Figure 2 indicates that a clear majority believe that solid evidence of Global Warming exists. However — and here’s the rub — only about 42% attribute the warming to human activities. So, the survey finds that the majority do not believe that human activities are causing Global Warming! The survey goes further to segment these results by political preferences. Only about 16% of those respondents that identify themselves as Conservative Republicans attribute Global Warming to human activities. This percentage increases rather smoothly across the American political spectrum, all the way up to 77% for respondents that classify themselves as Liberal Democrats.

So What?

After a full year of campaign hype and blather, along with the expenditure of several billions of dollars, the election changes very little. Mr. Obama is still the President. The composition and leadership of both Houses of Congress remain essentially unchanged. The President himself has said that initiatives to abate Global Warming will be subordinate to economic issues, at least in the near term.

So, for the next few years, here is what I see:

  • The President still controls the administrative functions of the Government, and the President believes that Global Warming is a serious problem that is substantially caused by human activities. I expect regulatory actions, especially through EPA, to continue as before. I expect continued active support for energy efficiency initiatives.

  • President Obama’s general political views are close to the center of those in most developed countries outside of the U.S. My impression is that majorities in many countries abroad do see Global Warming as a serious problem that is substantially caused by human actions. I expect considerable diplomatic pressure from abroad for the U.S. to lead, or at least support, international initiatives to reduce GHGs.

  • The majority view in the House of Representatives is considerably to the political right of the President’s. I see no enthusiasm there for new legislation regarding Global Warming.

  • The political balance in the Senate is such that a minority can restrain legislation, administrative appointments and international treaty ratification. I doubt that any matter that lacks broad bi-partisan support will pass the Senate in the near term.

I look forward to the President’s “national conversation”. But I don’t expect much action.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.

…  Chuck Harrington

. — When it is time for your firm to seriously pursue Sustainability, contact me — C.H.


Note: This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published on Wednesday evenings.

[1] Information on and quotations from the President’s press conference of 14 November 2012 are from Matthew Daly, Associated Press, via Yahoo!


[2] For more information, see More Say There Is Solid Evidence of Global Warming, The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 15 October 2012. The report is available for download at: