Americans -- particularly Democrats -- are pessimistic about the state of the environment, about the environment they expect to see in 10 years, and about the ability of the business community, President Bush or Congress to do anything about it, according to the annual Stanford University/Associated Press "Report Card on the Environment" poll.
But they do want something done. Democrats and Republicans alike want the president, Congress, the business community and individuals to take action to improve the environment.
So if we want something done, why are we so pessimistic? Where's is that can-do American attitude? Here's my take on the survey:
We're at a point where things are getting worse before they get better. Climatic shifts are causing extreme weather events like droughts, floods, wildfires and heat waves. Arctic sea ice is melting at an unprecedented rate. The world's oceans are imperiled by over-fishing and pollution. Some scientists say we're in the midst of the earth's sixth great extinction, and humans are to blame.
Those are depressing indicators, and it's easy to be pessimistic. Here's why I'm not: People are waking up to the problems, and looking for solutions. Particularly among American 20 and 30-somethings, market-based solutions are sexy. We want to make money and do good at the same time. I believe we will. I think the American public can be rallied behind an agenda that creates jobs and invests in new clean energy technologies.
As we near the anniversary of Sputnik's launch next week, remember the history of that American rally behind the Apollo mission. That took a shock of pessimism -- the notion that the Soviet Union, and not us -- might have the most sophisticated technological prowess. And then it took a major dose of optimism -- and federal investment -- to create NASA and jolt math and science education from its mid-Century doldrums.
So maybe the poll-takers are right. Things are bad. They may well get worse. But will they get better? I'm optimistic.
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