US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Public turns against war on pot (Chicago Tribune)

The stupidity and futility of the federal war on weed has slowly permeated the mass consciousness, writes Steve Chapman.

2. No Peace for Prisoners (Washington Post)

The Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap offers little new hope for peace, writes this editorial.

3. Occupy the Classroom (New York Times)

Want to close the equality gap? Providing early childhood education would be a great place to start, and it might even pay for itself, says Nicholas D. Kristof.

4. Re-examining our bio-defense (Politico)

According to Jeffrey Runge, Congress needs to take a fresh look as it prepares to reauthorize BARDA.

5. How to Clean Up the Housing Mess (Wall Street Journal) ($)

Millions of foreclosures are ruining millions of lives. We can do better than Social Darwinism, says Alan Blinder.

6. A shortage of drugs in a free market? (USA Today)

This editorial reporst that while the FDA and pharmaceutical industry debate the hows and whys, patients are stuck in limbo with life-threatening illnesses.

7. Candidate Cain disrespects African-American community (Detroit Free Press)

Trevor Coleman writes: "Imagine the reaction if a white presidential candidate said most African Americans have been "brainwashed" to vote for Democrats."

8. Meet Me at the Plaza (New York Times)

A 50-year-old bargain between the city and private developers gave New York hundreds of potentially useful spaces, but Jerold S. Kayden argues it clearly needs revising.

9. Obama in the Occupy Wall Street camp (Los Angeles Times)

With polls showing broad support for the movement, President Obama tries to turn the anger into an electoral advantage, says Doyle McManus.

10. Newt's surge (Washington Times)

The Republican party's disarray benefits the former speaker, writes Brett M. Decker -- and starts talk of a Gingrich-Palin ticket.

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Does the UK care enough about climate change to admit it is part of the problem?

The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction.

“People tell me it’s ridiculous to be flying for a climate change project but you have to get real with it, I mean I can’t cycle across the Southern ocean,” says Daniel Price, an environmental scientist from London. As founder of Pole-to-Paris, Price is about to complete a 17,000km bike ride from the Antarctic to the Arc de Triomphe.

Price came up with the idea in an effort to raise public awareness of COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris next week. During the trip he’s faced a succession of set-backs: from the discovery that boats were prohibitively expensive, to diplomatic tensions scuppering his Russian visa plans. Yet the darkest moments were when he became overwhelmed by the magnitude of his own mission. “There were difficult times when I just thought, ‘What is the point of this’?” he says. “Cycling round the world is nowhere near enough to engage people.” 

As world leaders descend on Paris, many questions remain unanswered. Not least how much support developing nations will receive in tackling the effects of climate change. New research commissioned by Oxfam claims that such costs could rise to £1.7tn a year by 2050. But with cuts kicking in at home, the need to deliver “climate justice” abroad feels like a bigger ask than ever.

So does Britain really care enough about climate change to accept its full part in this burden? The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction. In September, however, it did pledge £5.8bn from the foreign aid fund to helping poorer nations combat climate change (twice that promised by China and the United States). And there’s evidence to suggest that we, as a public, may also care more than we think.

In America attitudes are much darker; in the dismissive words of Donald Trump “It’s called the weather”. Not least since, as a recent study proves, over the last twenty years corporations have systematically spread scepticism about the science. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective," says the author Justin Farrell, a Yale sociologist, "that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust.” 

And what about in China, the earth's biggest polluter? Single-party rule and the resulting lack of public discussion would seem to be favouring action on the environment. The government has recently promised to reach "peak" emissions by 2030, to quadruple solar installations, and to commit $3.1bn to help low-income countries adapt to the changing world. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate official, has even lauded the country for taking “undisputed leadership” on climate change mitigation.

Yet this surge of policy could mask the most troubling reality of all: that, when it comes to climate change, the Chinese are the least concerned citizenship in the world. Only 18 per cent of Chinese see the issue as a very serious problem, down 23 percentage points from five years ago, and 36 points behind the global median.

A new study by political economist Dr Alex Lo has concluded that the country’s reduced political debate could be to blame for the lack of concern. “In China popular environmentalism is biased towards immediate environmental threats”, such as desertification and pollution, Lo writes, “giving little impetus to a morally driven climate change movement”.

For the international community, all is well and good as long as the Chinese government continues along its current trajectory. But without an engaged public to hold it to account there’s always a chance its promises may fade into thin air.

So perhaps the UK’s tendency to moan about how hard it is to care about the (seemingly) remote impacts of climate change isn’t all bad. At least we know it is something worth moaning about. And perhaps we care more than we let on to each other.

Statistics published this summer by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveal that three quarters of the British public support subsidies for renewable energy, despite only 10 per cent thinking that the figure is that high. “Even if the public think the consensus is not there, there are encouraging signs that it is,” says Liz Callegari, Head of Campaigns at WWF. “Concern for climate change is growing.”

As Price puts it, “You can think of climate change as this kind of marathon effort that we have to address and in Paris we just have to get people walking across the start line together”. Maybe then we will all be ready to run.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.