1. Delayed consequences. Warming is a current phenomenon, but most of the damage is in the future, like a time-delayed bomb – we emit now and suffer the consequences later. Because it is a future event, neither citizens nor politicians feel sufficient urgency.
2. Belief in the necessity of growth! The sanctity of growth in the economy and in population is the real American religion. What all cities/communities want is more economic and population growth. But growth is now impossible without cheap and abundant fossil fuels, and they are finite and becoming prohibitively expensive – causing recessions.
3. Energy cornucopia! The “booms” in oil and gas are mostly just Wall Street bubbles like the real estate and internet bubbles of recent years. Conventional (cheap) fossil fuels are declining resources, and fracked, deep water, oil sands and arctic sources are prohibitively expensive. But no matter – the press is still full of empty chatter about the US out-producing Saudi Arabia and being energy independent.
4. Individualism. Devotees of individualism dislike cooperative processes, preferring go-it-alone methods. Cutting emissions requires a globally cooperative effort, and such cooperative projects might feel to individualists like unacceptable collectivism, and hence resisted.
5. Anti-intellectualism. Many in America have not moved beyond medieval science. Rationality does not often apply in scientific issues with political overtones, or with personal preferences, and hence global warming, the end of cheap oil, and other issues are falsely labeled as scientific frauds by opponents of science.
6. American exceptionalism. We imagine we are different from other nations, and many Americans accept that we are not subject to the same rules as other nations.
7. Failure of international cooperation. It is nearly universally believed that the solution to the problem of warming lies in global treaties involving all nations and dealing with emissions reductions and related equity/financial issues. It’s now 25 years since James Hansen warned Congress, and we have done nothing. Nothing.
8. Difficulties of monitoring and assuring compliance. How do you closely monitor emissions of a gas which quickly diffuses globally in the atmosphere? How do you closely monitor all production and use of fossil fuels? How do you monitor and control land use change (deforestation) before the deed is done? Etc.
9. Greed. Greed permeates political life: worldwide, governments’ subsidies to fossil fuel producers now total $100,000,000,000 a year, and subsidies to consumers are $675,000,000,000. The subsidies are like crack cocaine – the addiction is extremely difficult to treat.
10. Disinformation. The fossil fuel industry lavishly funds global warming deniers and skeptics – the “lavish” funding is chump change in view of current profits.
If we follow the path we are on, the path of no cutting back on emissions, and in fact the path of continued increases in the rate of increase of emissions, our civilization will very possibly collapse.