Americans seem to be stuck in one of those “do as we say, not as we do” conundrums when it comes to recognizing the connection between climate-altering carbon emissions and how we conduct our lives.
New findings published Tuesday estimate that U.S. carbon emissions increased 3.4 percent last year, driven primarily by a booming economy, which consumed more electricity, and people buying less-efficient vehicles and driving more miles, including shippers. Despite recent gains in adding renewable resources, coal and natural gas still account for 62 percent of domestic electricity production, which means increased demand causes increased emissions.
The findings track with preliminary estimates released last month and with reports at the international climate forum in Katowice, Poland, that humankind is failing to take sufficient steps to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
So what’s the conundrum? We know that climate change is real, we know that human activity is propelling it, yet we persist with activities that add to the problem and fail to take sufficient steps to mitigate it. Having climate-change skeptics and industry lobbyists directing federal environmental policy doesn’t help, but President Donald Trump isn’t the one leading consumers to pick gas-guzzlers over gas-sippers.
That’s a consumer choice. So even as we recognize that burning gasoline in our engines adds to global warming, we’re moving away from the more efficient vehicles in favor of the less-efficient but larger SUVs and light trucks. Though I should note that the larger vehicles were getting more fuel-efficient under increasingly stringent Obama administration fuel-efficiency standards, which Trump has moved to freeze.
Consumers are showing some interest in electric vehicles, but they remain expensive and we still don’t have the infrastructure in place -- plentiful and publicly accessible charging stations -- to make them more practical for more consumers. Even at home, people without a garage or driveway are unable to charge the vehicles, let alone folks who live in multi-unit rental properties.
Another part of the problem is that technology has yet to come up with batteries that give cars the kind of range that a tank of gas provides, though engineers are working on it. And as voters, we don’t put enough pressure on politicians to use the power of government to move markets away from products that are killing us in favor of those that might keep the world habitable for humans for a longer period of time.
But in the end, we know what we’re doing to ourselves, yet we do it anyway.