January 26, 2009 at 8:35AM
by Jim DiPeso
A new Pew Research Center poll reveals that the public is not as concerned about climate change as it was a year ago.
Quite understandable. When the value of your house is sliding downhill, when your retirement fund if you have one at all is turning into a puddle, and when your job suddenly feels like a trap door to Palookaville, polar bears inevitably will slip toward the bottom of your things-to-worry-about list.
Still, the poll also revealed an opening for political leaders, starting with our new man in the White House, to exercise leadership on climate in a context that's in phase with worries about jobs, money, and security.
That opening is energy, which is still a source of worry for people who must buy fuel to get around and must pay monthly bills for heating, cooling, lighting, and keeping the milk cold and the showers hot.
As a sociologist quoted in the New York Times article about the poll noted, President Obama "can effectively tie conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy to jobs, sustainable growth, and national security."
Obama will need broad, bipartisan support for that, which he knows and congressional leaders had better learn. But that's a conversation for another day.
The Times' report on the Pew poll brings to mind the newspaper's initiative to take energy and the environment out of journalistic stovepipes. The Times has created an environmental reporting team that will include writers with expertise in business, science, foreign affairs, and politics. Their goal will be to integrate environmental stories with coverage of the other important dimensions of human society.
Because, when you think about it, the environment is not "out there," as it is often portrayed, but is fundamental to our existence. Managing the environment is really about managing ourselves our choices in how we feed and clothe ourselves, how we produce energy, how we use water, forests, and soils, and how we provide for the many poor people who want the health and abundance that we Americans take for granted.
In many ways, the story of the environment is not just a science, business, or political story. It's a moral story about our obligations to be good stewards of ourselves, our neighbors, and of the world that we share.
The assistant managing editor overseeing the Times' environmental reporting team told the Columbia Journalism Review that his goal is to help readers understand the environment's relevance to their everyday lives and make them "angry enough to do something."
It's a worthy goal. It will be interesting to see how well it works.