Click here if you don’t see subscription options
The EditorsJuly 16, 2007

One year after the release of Al Gores Academy Award-winning film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, and two years after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, Americans seem finally to have accepted the reality of climate change and the need for greener living. Indeed, while the federal government continues to drag its feet, innovative state and local initiatives, coupled with changing consumer attitudes, are generating the beginnings of a veritable renaissance in environmental practices.

No state has received more attention than California. Newsweek recently dubbed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger The Green Giant for the numerous plans he and the state legislature have undertaken to reduce carbon production and spur business innovation, including state-mandated cuts in carbon emissions, a proposed 33 percent increase in car fuel efficiency by 2009 and plans for a hydrogen fuel network along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Yet California is by no means alone. To cut the greenhouse gases emitted by buildings, for instancewhich account for a staggering 50 percent to 70 percent of the greenhouse gases produced in citiesthe city of Chicago has installed grass on two million square feet (the equivalent of 40 football fields) of roof space, including the largest green roof installation in the world, 24.5 acres at Millennium Park. The grass acts as a natural insulation, reducing air conditioning needs in summer and heat loss in winter. Meanwhile, Austin, Tex., has set itself the goal of making all of its houses zero-energy-capablethat is, able to function without drawing energy from the power gridby the year 2015. Salt Lake City, Boston and New York City all have efforts underway to hybridize their taxis.

American business has responded positively to these changes. Energy-efficient electronic devices abound, as do green product lines in everything from home cleaning supplies to clothing. Segments of the automobile and energy industries are likewise seriously engaged in the development of alternate fuels and sources of energy. The capture and use of solar and wind energy continues to improve dramatically, to the point that many houses could today be powered by a set of solar panels.

To some degree, however, the stance of the energy industry remains like that of the cigarette business before them, seeking to convince consumers that they do not need to quit, they just need the right filter. Some businesses are investigating the storage of carbon underwater or underground, solutions that demand little change on their part while creating new, unseen environmental problems. Sequestration underwater, for instance, would keep carbon out of the atmosphere but raise the acidity of the water and harm undersea life. Likewise, the effectiveness of the carbon trading market, in which businesses that produce less than their allotment of carbon are given credits they can sell to businesses that produce too much carbon, remains inconclusive.

Poverty needs attention because of the vulnerability of the poor and because of the ecological damage caused by people forced to live on the margins. As both the tsunami in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina revealed, changes in our climate disproportionately affect the poorest among us, who lack the resources to ensure their own safety. Yet poor countries are also among the most egregious polluters. To people struggling for their very survival, the needs of the present vastly outweigh concerns about long-term environmental harm or sustainability.

The greening of the West has so far done little to alter our levels of consumption. If anything, the growing consumer interest in environmentally safe products is stimulating buyer demand. Going green has become the newest fad, with rock stars for spokespersons and product lines at the Gap. The idea that the pool of resources is limited seems difficult for us to comprehend. Perhaps because we come from a culture of riches and possibilities, we believe that we can have our cake (even if it is carbon free) and eat it, too. There is a great need for Catholics and others to help bring awareness of the worlds fragile reality to our well-intentioned but overfed American population.

Still, there is already much to celebrate. For over a generation, individuals and small groups have been talking about climate change and working to develop solutions. Most of the time, their work has been relegated to the margins. Today the American public is finally beginning to catch up. We must be ready, however, to assess whether the green solutions offered us by government policy or the market will prepare a sustainable future on the planet or simply pass the problem on to the next generation.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
14 years 6 months ago
In Southwest Florida there is sun aplenty. Our parishes are overflowing, especially in winter. Rarely do our pastors speak about peace and our need to reduce our carbon footprints. One pastor (an extremely popular one) who spoke against the Bush war two years ago had his car "keyed". We live in a community of vast differences in wealth. Many people give lavishly to charity especially at St. John's of Naples. But because of the Republican stranglehold most sermons avoid "liberal" topics. What can be done to give priests the guts to tell us things we don't want to hear?
14 years 6 months ago
The editors of America seem to have abandoned Catholicism for the Green Religion. How unfortunate. Catholicism is a religion of faith and reason. Environmentalism is merely faith, and irrational faith at that. Are the editors unaware that the claims made in "An Inconvenient Truth" have been repudiated by reputable climatologists? Are they unaware that the overall intensity of hurricanes has been less than predicted by global warming scaremongers? And--what's this? Are the editors actually blaming the earthquake-caused tsunami in Indonesia on climate change?

The latest from america

How does the Catholic Church decide what’s a miracle and what is just a rare healing—or a hoax?
JesuiticalJanuary 21, 2022
While the church’s prayer should not be a battlefield, Archbishop Roche says it is understandable that people are passionate about it.
It is appalling to see an organization that claims to be Catholic project pro-abortion messaging onto a structure that celebrates the conception of the Mother of God. What am I supposed to take from this?
J.D. Long-GarcíaJanuary 21, 2022
With tens of thousands of anti-abortion protesters gathered for the annual March for Life, Catholics for Choice projected pro-abortion messages on the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 21, 2022