Polling data shows the percentage of Americans concerned about climate change is falling, down 12 percent over the past 10 years, according to a recent Gallup Poll, and in some parts of the country the term “global warming” is practically taboo. So why, then, are some of the states with the biggest populations of “global-warming skeptics” also some of the states making the biggest investments in renewable energy?
energyNOW! correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan visited Kansas, where some clean energy advocates say they’ve figured out what it takes to convince climate-change skeptics to invest in renewables and energy efficiency. Their advice: stop talking about global warming and change the conversation to energy conservation. You can watch the full video below:
“Almost half of all Kansans don’t really buy into the whole global warming idea,” said Dorothy Barnett of the Climate and Energy Project, a group working to reduce fossil-fuel use in Kansas. “They don’t buy the climate science.” But Barnett’s group is avoiding the climate change controversy by offering cash incentives for communities to reduce energy use.
The new approach seems to be working, says one town competing for the $100,000 top prize in the Climate and Energy Project’s “Take Charge!” challenge to lower energy use. Goodland, a small town located in western Kansas, has reduced its energy use by five percent. “I would say primarily the motivation here is people who want to help their pocketbook, maybe earn the community some cash on the back end and also have a good competition with their neighbors,” said city manager Douglas Gerber.
Saving money isn’t the only motivator to cutting energy use in the state — religious faith is also playing a big role. The Kansas Interfaith Power and Light Initiative has signed up more than 10,000 congregations who pledge to incorporate creation stewardship and energy efficiency measures into their practices since 2008. But the effort has run into resistance because of its acceptance of the theory of global warming, says one of the initiative’s founders.
“I did bring it (the IPL pledge) to my Pastoral Council, but we couldn’t get it signed,” said Father Kerry Ninemire, of St. Mary’s Church in Salina, Kansas. His parishioners refused to sign it, he said, because of the climate change language contained in the pledge. Father Ninemire was able to convince his parish to take the Initiative’s energy efficiency advice, and reduced energy use in the church and high school 10 percent by switching to efficient lighting and programmable thermostats.
This shift in thinking isn’t limited to conservation, however. Wind energy is growing across the state, creating green jobs and emission-free electricity. Kansas currently gets seven percent of its electricity from wind, and the state has the second-highest wind energy potential in the U.S. behind Texas. To many Kansans, all those potential electrons from the near-constant wind look like dollar signs. “We don’t need to produce wind energy, necessarily, for anything other than the economic side of it,” said Mark Richardson of the Reno County Wind Energy Task Force.
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