At least that’s what a CNN poll says:

57% strongly or mildly still favor offshore drilling? Ouch.

I bring this up to make an uncomfortable point about the level of disconnect between what we energy and enviro geeks obsess about and what jiggles the needle for mainstreamers.

There’s a disturbing and tiresome tendency for all of us to see something we think is Very Very Important, and then leap to the unfounded conclusion that the whole world either agrees with our position on the issue or at least sees it as being VVI. Nowhere is this more easily seen than our constantly grasping for some tipping point event, a “climate 9/11″ being just the most obvious and extreme example. The problem is that mainstreamers are so concerned with real world issues like jobs and taxes and family matters and who knows what else that they often overlook the VVI things that send us running in circles and shouting, or they reduce those issues to simplistic caricatures that leaves them open to bizarro and blatantly wrong) arguments like, “we should drill for all the oil and natural gas we can within the US so we can (everyone say it with me) Achieve Energy Independence.” If we could achieve energy independence it would be a laudable goal, but the feeds and speeds don’t begin to support that as a rational policy.

Another factor in the brain-flinch-inducing poll results above is distance. If you live along the Gulf Coast, the current BP Blowout is a VVI story, and justifiably so. But people “far away” from the Gulf Coast are barely paying attention. It’s effectively dumped into the same category as people up here in the North East hearing about a minor quake in California, or people in Seattle seeing that Washington DC got a foot of snow. It makes for some dramatic news footage that makes people “far away” happy they’re not in the middle of the event, and then it’s forgotten before the next ad for heartburn or boner pills airs.

As much as we all wish people would look a little deeper into events like the BP Blowout, it’s not hard to see why they don’t: They perceive (accurately or otherwise) that it won’t affect them. This is the part where the passionate readers of this site start to sputter about how shortsighted and destructive that behavior is when we’re facing climate change and peak oil and water issues and a host of other sustainability challenges. Sadly, you’re right. I agree with you 100%, and I have no bloody idea how to change that nasty reality.

This situation is why I’m so skeptical of the concept of an “acceptable climate 9/11″; if whatever event you have in mind only impacts a small portion of people in the US, it won’t change a thing. As horrific as Katrina was in 2005, it made no lasting impact outside the immediate area. If an event is to have any chance of serving as a wake up call for the US as a whole, it will have to hurt a lot of us, and more than a little. We’re talking about massive, widespread financial losses and/or a sickening body count, far larger than the roughly 1,800 people who died in Katrina.

This sounds cynical, I know. It sounds like I’m reading straight out of an economics text book, and in a sense I am. And most of all I hope it sounds like I desperately want to be proved wrong, which I do.

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