Monday, December 21, 2009

can obama stop america's gas-guzzling ways?

Spiegel | Never before has a US government been as serious in its warnings against the dangers of climate change as the Obama administration. But Americans are divided: Half of them regard climate protection policies as socialist, and half want to save the world. Can Obama make America go green?

There are two Americas that don't talk to each other. In fact, these two Americas -- Las Vegas on the one side, Berkeley on the other -- despise and ridicule each other.

"We have always been a sprawling country full of contradictions, but nowadays an issue like climate change has turned into something of a sport," says Kiser. "The one team is for climate protection and the other team is for industry. The fans root for their respective teams and hate the others."

In other words, when one side says that the Earth is getting warmer, the other side disagrees, purely out of principle. The same dynamic applies to all major issues in the United States. If one side seeks to promote healthcare reform and legislation to protect the climate, the other side equates both goals with socialism and characterizes a president who advocates both as a new Hitler. America has become a country paralyzed by self-loathing. The United States is now a republic of bloggers and talk radio, a country of shouting citizens and an eternal presidential election campaign, full of paranoid, spoiled and self-righteous people. They tend to become entrenched in their issues because the legislative branch is so complicated, with its two houses of Congress, in which it takes clear majorities to pass any legislation -- majorities that rarely materialize. Deep divisions within society have led to an American sluggishness in the last decade and are increasingly limiting the country's ability to act.

The question is: How can this be changed? Assuming that one side is indeed right this time -- not just because the existence of climate change has been proven without a doubt, but also because it is abundantly clear that the United States has played a bigger role in bringing about climate change than any other country -- how can politics and the way American society thinks and acts be changed? And how quickly?

Anyone in the country who pays attention to the issues surrounding climate change is familiar with the data. The average North American is responsible for more than 19 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, more than twice as much as the average European and four times as much as the average Chinese. If the global community intends to limit the warming of the planet to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2050, "America must lead," says President Barack Obama. "If we do nothing, the efforts of the rest of the world will never be sufficient," says environmental activist and former US Vice President Al Gore.