During the North American launch of the SMART 2020:USA report, there was a discussion about why climate change initiatives have taken hold in Europe and Japan but are getting less traction here in the USA. I heard a consensus that this was due to consistently higher oil pricing and a national strategy for energy. But, I think even that answer begs the question of why governments in those countries have been more inclined to create a national energy strategy.
Political reasons have something to do with it, but I would like to add one additional and perhaps more personal observation on European/American contrasts. I think that Europeans (I realize I am generalizing here) are more receptive to having to knuckle down and sacrifice to solve a problem. Americans, in contrast, do better if they can see creative and imaginative ways forward that include a vision for a better future. I have written before about the need for positive visions of a carbon constrained future and feel we need those positive visions now more than ever.
We need to move from a "you're not gonna be able to that" vision (which might have worked somewhat in Europe - aside from the spelling of "gonna") to a "you’re gonna be able to do all this!" vision. We need to capture the imagination of the public with the possibilities and potential for a better lifestyle. Thomas Friedman makes a start on this in Chapter 10 of Hot, Flat and Crowded where he draws an attractive vision of a carbon constrained future.
Corporations are experts at marketing and we now need to grow from analyzing and quantifying and instead expand our focus to include depicting attractive and creative views of what our lives could look like. The government needs a public mandate to act. If we can influence the public in a positive way, we will help build that groundswell for action. Of course there is some fear of being thought to be green washing, so we have to continue to take action on our own footprints and the impact of our products and services. However, we should not forget how good we are at marketing and at helping people see the potential of a brighter rather than duller future.