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Exercise #5: United States and Climate Change

Learning Objectives


In this exercise you will learn about how the culture of the United States influences what actions the country takes on climate change issues. You will fist examine information about the United States, including geography and demographics, the economy and government. You will research what climate change actions and mitigation measures the US has taken both nationally and internationally. Based on what you learn about the culture of the United States, you will discuss how you think this culture influences what mitigation measures the US will find appealing, and in which measures the US will not participate. Lastly, you will discuss what you think the United States should do about climate change.


Bloom, Arnold J (2010) Global Climate Change, Convergence of Disciplines, Sinauer Assoc., Sunderland, MA.

CIA world factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html

White House page: http://www.whitehouse.gov/energy/climate-change

United States Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/


Background: What is culture?

As this course draws to an end, hopefully you have begun to form your own opinions on what the world should do to mitigate climate change. The opinions you form are to some degree a product of your environment. Where you grew up, your level of education, gender, race, income, age, and religion are factors that make up your personal culture — the set of attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize you, and influence your opinions about global climate change. As we learned in the previous assignment, there are many things you as an individual can do to mitigate climate change, and your personal culture influences which actions are appealing to you and which actions you could not live with.

Along with individual action, many actions are needed at the national and international level. Countries decide which actions to take based largely on that country’s culture. While one action, such as taxing GHG emissions, may be appealing to a country that places a high value on the environment, another country that values economic growth might find taxing GHG emissions unappealing. We can learn why some countries are eager to make policy changes while others are reluctant. If we understand a country’s culture, we can also understand how to create policies that will appeal to that country’s culture and help the environment. Most importantly, understanding a country’s culture can help us form meaningful and lasting national and international policies to mitigate climate change.

What is the culture of the United States?

For this exercise, you will examine the culture of the United States and infer how that culture influences actions the United States takes (and doesn’t take) on climate change mitigation. Keep in mind the methods we use to do this can be applied to any country.

At first glance, the question “what is the culture of the United States” may seem overwhelming. Think of all the factors that go into your personal culture, and then think of how many people live in the United States (over 313 million), each of them adding to the nation’s culture. And culture varies geographically, state-by-state. Californians value “green“ energy, while Kentuckians depend on coal for a large portion of their economy. So how can we get an idea of what the culture of the United States is? First, we need to look at some statistics (hurray!).

One great resource is the CIA world factbook: (that’s right, the CIA is running covert operations so you can learn more about the world). Select the United States. You will find an overwhelming amount of information on this site. It is your job to look through the facts and draw conclusions on what they say about the culture of the United States.


1) Describe the geography of the United States:

2) What factors from the “geography” section do you think influence how the US reacts to climate change mitigation strategies?

3) Based on what you know about the geography of the US, what risks to climate change pose to the US?

4) What are the current environmental issues in the US?

5) How would the current environmental issues change with climate change (would they get better, worse, or stay the same)?

6) What environmental international agreements is the US a part of? Which ones are related to climate change?

People and Society:

1) Describe the demographics of the United States:

2) Do you think the demographics of the US influence how it responds to climate change? Explain how (or why not).

3) Describe health care and education in the US:

4) Based on the information in question 3, how important do you think health is to

5) Do you think there is a connection between health and climate change mitigation?

6) How important is education to Americans?

7) Do you think educated people are more or less likely to enact climate change mitigation measures?


1) What type of government does the US have?
2) What kind of legal system does the US have?
3) Does the US participate in international law (International Court of Justice or International Criminal Court)?
4) Of the political pressure groups and leaders, which do you think have an interest in climate change mitigation and why?
5) Do you think the US government would be for or against international climate change mitigation laws? Why?


1) Describe the US economy:

2) How dependent is the US economy on energy?

3) How do you think climate change mitigation measures would affect the US economy?

Now that you have a good understanding of the culture of the United States, think about how that culture has influenced participation in climate change mitigation.

What climate change actions has the United States taken?

Search government resources to find what climate change actions the United States has taken. For the following questions you do not need to include every action/agreement the US has been involved with, just the ones you think are the most important.
1) What international agreements on climate change is the US involved in?
2) What efforts has the US made at a national level to mitigate climate change?
3) Have any goals been set to reduce emissions by a certain date?
4) Are there any agreements or efforts that are legally binding? Some suggested resources:

  • White House page
  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • What will the United States do?

    Based on what you have learned about the culture of the United States, and what actions the US has taken so far in regards to climate change, what do you think the United States will do in the future?
    1) How does the culture of the United States influence what mitigation actions the US finds appealing?
    2) Do you think US be affected by climate change?
    3) Is the US concerned about climate change?
    4) Do you think the US will invest money in climate change mitigation measures?
    5) Do you think the US will legislate climate change mitigation (such as making laws that set emission reduction targets)?
    6) How do you think the US economy will be affected by climate change mitigation measures?

    What do you think the United States should do?

    Briefly discuss what you think the United States should do about climate change, based on what you know about the US culture. What actions do you think Americans will be in favor of? Do you think a change in American culture is needed? Your answer may include (but doesn’t have to) a discussion of whether government regulation is needed or if free market strategies will work best.