What do you fear? People are moved to action by their fears. Sometimes our fears lurk at the edge of our consciousness, and then are brought into sharp focus by events. Dying oceans, polluted lakes and streams, unsafe drinking water in major cities, catastrophic hurricanes, severe drought and wildfires, and an increase in the severity of weather events, have brought environmental problems into the things Americans fear.
The annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears in 2017 provides an in-depth examination into the fears of average Americans. The survey looked at 80 fears and ranked them according to the survey responses Chapman’s chart lists America’s top 10 fears for 2017. For the first time ever, not one, but four of the top 10 fears are related to the deterioration of the environment. Pollution of natural waters, unsafe drinking water, global warming, and air pollution are now among Americans worst 10 fears.
It is not only natural disasters that occurred in 2017, but also political events. Americans had considered that the Environmental Protection Agency would protect our natural waters from pollution. However, Scott Pruitt, the current Environmental Protection Agency director, decided not to enforce major pollution laws, and fired the EPA’s entire Science Advisory Board. No advice, no research, no problem. People are beginning to realize that what you don’t know can hurt you.
The publicity surrounding the failure of the state and local government of Flint Michigan to protect the city’s residents from lead poisoning, and the subsequent discovery of lead and other toxins in our city water supplies, have made people fear that their water is not safe to drink. Almost everyone lives downstream from someone, and pollutants that find their way into our water supplies are bound to find their way into us.
Many Americans perceived the results of climate change remote and far into the future. The attribution of worsening disasters to climate change, and the US withdrawal from the Pirates Climate Accord have brought carbon emissions and air pollution into sharper focus. Pictures of severe smog in China and the data from the American Heart and the American Lung Associations about the number of deaths caused by air pollution and particulates are making people increasingly fear for their health.
Action and participation is the antidote for what fear can create, a feeling of helplessness. Our fears should create the will for political action on climate change and pollution. Even with the failure of our government and the EPA to protect the environment, we can still do it using market forces. The best plan is the carbon fee and dividend system as proposed by the Citizens Climate Lobby. The CCL legislative proposal would set an initial fee on carbon at $15 per ton of CO2 at the source and would increase it by $10 each year until the CO2 emissions were reduced to 10% of the 1990 US levels. The carbon fees are not a tax, as they would be rebated 100% to American households. It would give every American citizen a stake in conserving energy and reducing their use of carbon fuels, which would both cut pollution and improve the economy. Exercise the power in your citizenship, and insist your Representative support action on climate change.
Dr. J.C. Moore is a physical chemist whose interests are spectroscopy,computational chemistry, professional ethics, and science education. He taught chemistry, physics, and general science at the college level for 38 years. Since retirement, he has established