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Climate (still) nowhere near top issue in U.S.

By Joe Romm

"Climate (still) nowhere near top issue in U.S."

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So we don’t get too besotted in celebration of the Nobel Prize win by Al Gore and the IPCC, the Washington Post shares these depressing factoids with us today:

Polls show that Gore’s efforts have helped raise the profile of global warming among Americans — an April Washington Post-ABC News survey found that the percentage of respondents identifying climate change as their top environmental concern had doubled from a year earlier, to 33 percent — but in the public’s mind, it still lags far behind such issues as the war in Iraq and health care in importance.

In a September Washington Post-ABC News poll, less than 1 percent identified global warming as their top issue for the 2008 presidential campaign, and a January poll by the Pew Research Center ranked it fourth-lowest out of 23 policy priorities that Americans want the president and Congress to address.

Can’t let us have even one good day, eh Juliet Eilperin? Fine! To quote our newest Nobel laureate:

“I’m going back to work right now. This is just the beginning.”

‹ More thoughts on Gore and the Prize

More on Gore — for political junkies only ›

22 Responses to Climate (still) nowhere near top issue in U.S.

  1. Paul K says:

    Chin up, Joe. It’s never easy being a voice in the wilderness. The politics of this will continue to be problematic due to some inconvenient (no pun intended) facts.
    While global atmospheric CO2 presumably continues to rise, there has been no warming trend since 1998. A leading climate scientist recently said warming won’t resume for two or three years. Some will say let’s wait and see.
    The last two hurricane seasons have been relatively mild.
    People fear cold more than heat.
    Congress seems more intent on preserving campaign issues than actually accomplishing anything.
    US CO2 emissions actually went down last year.

  2. Jay Alt says:

    Big changes are a coming down under. Although sadly that includes their climate and livelihoods, as well as the PM’s government.

    Howard sets November elections
    http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/10/13/australia.elections/index.html

    Paul K – Yawn. No one fears stale climate clown claims.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Mauna_Loa_Carbon_Dioxide.png
    http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics
    - – - – Section 1 b. “Global warming stopped in 1998″

  3. Dano says:

    This is because the stale way the fuzzy bunnies frame the issue doesn’t resonate with the public. This is S&N’s point. Ah, well. Keep on with the non-resonant campaign & bash your partners, don’t change a thing!

    Best,

    D

  4. Joe says:

    Actually — I believe the exact reverse is true. The environmentalists listened in the 1990s to those who said that the apocalyptic message was bad and we should focus on happy talk about technology. Since the disinformation campaign kept saying global warming was no big deal, once our side stop saying that it was a big deal, the public’s perception changed.

    Only in the last year or so have the polling trends gone back, and we can thank Al Gore among others for that. S&N’s message has never been focused on the seriousness of global warming — and indeed did they have been critical of apocalyptic people like Gore. The fact that the public doesn’t consider global warming serious can hardly be blamed on the few people who have been pointing out how serious it is.

  5. Ronald says:

    how much investing in non-carbon energy sources were people willing to put in with 20 dollar a barrel oil 5 or more years ago? With 80 dollar a barrel oil and peak oil in June, 2005, everybody wants to get in on it.

    It’s the stick of global warming, Al Gore and the 80 dollar a barrel oil.

  6. Paul K says:

    Jay Alt,
    Thanks for calling me a climate clown. The tendency of many AGW advocates to engage in personal attacks and name calling rather than rational discussion – something Joe does not do – is one of the reasons the public doesn’t consider global warming serious. Your first link supported what I said about CO2 levels. The second was about “global warming ending in 1998″ which is not at all what I said. Why the attack? I would welcome any refutation of what I actually wrote.
    Joe,
    I think the challenge is to promote policies that can be supported by those who do not share your particular AGW viewpoint. All political action requires compromise. I recently read a 20 year old quote from a now passed away AGW scientist (sorry that I can’t remember where I saw it) to the effect that proposed solutions should be presented in terms other than global warming. A lot has changed in twenty years, but I think that is still good advice. Look for people who can agree with your solutions whether they agree with your premise or not. It is easier and more productive to build coalition than consensus.

  7. Joe says:

    Paul:
    I personally believe that what we need to do on global warming is so significant — a la the Obama bill — that it can’t be sold to people who don’t believe in AGW. Why would anyone agree to go to all the effort — and it will be a lot of effort — to cut carbon 80% below 1990 levels unless we are facing climate catastrophe?

    Yes, we could get some agreement on boost in clean energy technologies — though even that is a harder sell than most people, including S&N, realize. But we couldn’t get a $20 to $30 a ton price for CO2, which is a must have to solve this problem.

  8. Dano says:

    S&N’s message has never been focused on the seriousness of global warming — and indeed did they have been critical of apocalyptic people like Gore.

    What do we worry about when we worry about global warming? Is it the refugee crisis that will be caused when Caribbean nations are flooded? If so, shouldn’t our focus be on building bigger sea walls and disaster preparedness?

    Is it the food shortages that will result from reduced agricultural production? If so, shouldn’t our focus be on increasing food production?
    Is it the potential collapse of the Gulf Stream, which could freeze upper North America and northern Europe and trigger, as a recent Pentagon scenario suggests, world war?

    Most environmental leaders would scoff at such framings of the problem and retort, “Disaster preparedness is not an environmental problem.” It is a hallmark of environmental rationality to believe that we environmentalists search for “root causes” not “symptoms.” What, then, is the cause of global warming?

    For most within the environmental community, the answer is easy: too much carbon in the atmosphere. Framed this way, the solution is logical: we need to pass legislation that reduces carbon emissions. But what are the obstacles to removing carbon from the atmosphere?

    Consider what would happen if we identified the obstacles as:

    o The radical right’s control of all three branches of the US government.
    o Trade policies that undermine environmental protections.
    o Our failure to articulate an inspiring and positive vision.
    o Overpopulation.
    o The infl uence of money in American politics.
    o Our inability to craft legislative proposals that shape the debate around core American values.
    o Poverty.
    o Old assumptions about what the problem is and what it isn’t.

    Huh. I guess they’re serious about the problem.

    Sounds like someone has issues.

    Best,

    D

  9. Paul K says:

    Joe,
    Could you explain how cap & trade and/or auction works? Is it essentially a tax and penalty avoidance system? How is a price for CO2 established? Also, you refer to the “Obama bill”. Has he actually submitted legislation or is his plan merely a campaign position? I don’t think Obama has much of a chance to get the nomination, but since you are supportive of his proposals, I guess I’ll have to download the pdf you linked to the other day as part of my continuing education.

  10. Joe says:

    Dano:
    What you quoted is exactly why I can’t take S&N seriously. We are supposed to believe that instead of concentrating our efforts on the politically difficult but environmentally crucial task of reducing carbon emissions directly, it would somehow be politically MORE savvy to focus our efforts on:
    o Overpopulation.
    o The influence of money in American politics.
    o Poverty.
    Those are three of the most politically intractable problems imaginable. If the only way to solve global warming is to first solve those problems, we are in big, BIG trouble. Thankfully, it ain’t so!

  11. Dano says:

    Joe:

    My point was that you claimed S&N were never serious about AGW, and that’s clearly not true. You didn’t address my point.

    My overarching point is that the POV of some does not allow them to hear what S&N are saying. You can’t take S&N seriously because you are entrenched in your little box, and the identity of your little box is threatened by the ideas of S&N. The national dialogue is whether we want to change what we’re doing so we can change what we’re doing. It’s not whether we want to change what we’re doing and, by the way, my idea is better than their idea so therefore they s*ck.

    When DOE was written, S&N were focusing on how a radical fringe group could change national dialogue to advance their weird agenda. S&N and others (incl. me) are asking how that happened, and why can’t the message of the environmental movement get more play (as you lament in this post). The point is that the message isn’t resonant and thus there is no galvanization to impel action; how did a narrow-minded movement get play and impel action?

    It’s not hard, really, to understand the why. It’s the how that’s the problem. How to unsh*t the bed by awakening the masses from their somnolence. And personally, I don’t think crafting the perfect wording on a dandy policy will do it. This is a democracy, remember, and if the majority doesn’t want it, ain’t gonna happen. S&N is saying: when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

    When the country chugs along like this cartoon and this cartoon with no change in sight, well, the national dialogue’s done broke and needs fixin’.

    Best,

    D

  12. Joe says:

    D — when did I ever say “S&N were never serious about AGW.”
    I confess I don’t like your name calling — the “little box” stuff.

    What people are pissed off about S&N is not their “ideas” — whatever those are, but let’s say it’s “technology is the most important part of the solution” — but that they claimed that everyone else doesn’t get it and/or is politically stupid and that they are the only ones with the wisdom to advance the technology message. Silly.

    Now the climate message has gotten a lot more traction, thanks in part to Al Gore and others spreading the apocalyptic message that they loathe. I think the events of the last few years of proven them completely wrong, so I don’t really understand how or why you are defending them.

  13. Ronald says:

    Some of the problem is the difference in how the majority of the people in each party look at problems. Republicans use honor and mythmaking. Democrats use human realities.

    What S&N is trying to do is use mythmaking as a people driver. But it’s talking to the wrong people. What they are doing is “the death of environmentalism” and trying to sell that to environmentalists and those already in tune with that message. It’s the kind of split that Karl Rove would be proud of.

  14. Dano says:

    Joe:

    I directly quoted you from this comment above (hence the italics). Unless that’s a different Joe, then apologies. If not, I think this is indicative of the issue.

    I say again (using yet a different metaphor): your actions are strange and counterproductive to the larger, shared goal.

    They are akin to one of my peers loudly stating that it’s ridiculous for me to recommend and approve a proposed LEED-ND subdivision, because the layout of the design isn’t as important as just having green buildings and transit. This peer would then go and write a Letter to the Editor “debunking” my staff recommendation because the zoning regulations we have today are sufficient with a few tweaks, why do we need totally new code that changes the face of the built environment?!?

    This letter would ignore the fact that the proposed subdivision actively engages the entire community and thus becomes a bottom-up change rather than a top-down change. As you know from your vast experience, knowledge, intellect, and prodigious writing output, bottom-up change is more lasting.

    Really. That’s what’s happening here. Society can make a decision for itself without your name-calling (Ignorantly) and authoritative “debunking” exercises.

    There is no reason that efficiencies AND technology can’t be pursued. I guess unless we take it as a personal insult when someone points out our strategy could be better, that is.

    HTH,

    D

  15. Joe says:

    I am letting this absurd comment go through so people can see if for what it is. I wrote: “S&N’s message has never been focused on the seriousness of global warming — and indeed did they have been critical of apocalyptic people like Gore.” This is factually true.

    Then you write, “My point was that you claimed S&N were never serious about AGW, and that’s clearly not true.” I never claimed that. I just said their MESSAGE has never been focused on the seriousness of global warming. They sometimes seem serious about the issue, but sometimes not — as in this infamous op-ed,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/01/opinion/01shellenberger.html
    where they actually write: “We can agree to disagree on the causes of climate change. What we all must agree on, though, is that it poses a risk — one for which we are woefully unprepared.”

    NO, NO, NO! We cannot agree to disagree on the fundamental issue — that human emissions are the primary cause of global warming as the IPCC and all relevant scientific research makes clear. If human emissions weren’t the primary cause, then 1) there is no reason to reduce those emissions and 2) why would anyone assume it is going to get worse and hence why would anyone assume it is risk we have to prepare for???

    Yes, they need to be debunked.

  16. Dano says:

    We cannot agree to disagree on the fundamental issue — that human emissions are the primary cause of global warming as the IPCC and all relevant scientific research makes clear.

    No.

    You do not go far enough down.

    I say it is more fundamental than your fundamental.

    The way our society is arranged is the cause of emissions. This is a layer deeper than your italicized above.

    That is: if we had a society that valued walking and conservation, a society that thought it a virtue to not waste and consume trinkets at a rate that causes them to take out second mortgages on their homes, wanted more compact development, thought about why it was bad to fly everywhere, and think something was wrong about building second and third homes in the WUI, we’d have lower emissions.

    These are the root causes of emissions, not just that people drive and pollute. It’s more than happy motoring. It’s blindly being oblivious to your impact.

    See the difference? You want to reduce emissions. I want to change the behaviors that cause emissions.

    You change more behaviors from the bottom-up. Top-down control is easily countered as “command-and-control”, requiring “political” decisions that can be negated (6 years of BushCo anyone)? Bottom-up control changes the fundamental behaviors that cause emissions.

    We have different premises yet seek to achieve the same goal.

    But my different premise needs to be “debunked”.

    Fortunately, my work creates things on the ground that changes behaviors.

    Best,

    D

  17. Joe says:

    D–I hate to break it to you, but your heroes S&N don’t believe in behavior change. They believe in a techno-fix. So now I’m really puzzled why you like them. Your premise is the opposite of theirs and much closer to mine. I wouldn’t try to debunk yours. You may be right. Of course, your approach probably takes too long to save the climate — so it could use some encouragement, and nothing changes behavior like price changes.

  18. Dano says:

    Heroes. Huh.

    I’m curious why you say that, Joe. And I said above that [t]here is no reason that efficiencies AND technology can’t be pursued. I’m not sure why you wish to characterize me and others in this way. In my experience, those that characterize others like that – usu wingnuts with no facts on their side – do that to distract away from their position. I hope you aren’t doing that too.

    And S&N explicitly talk about behavior change, as in

    The usefulness of any legislative proposal should be determined not just by whether it’s going to reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere, but also whether it’s going to create a cultural environment where much more dramatic and sweeping transformations can take place in the future.

    When the Republicans fought partial-birth abortion, every time they lost legislatively, they gained power in the court of public opinion and in Congress. They got the message out there, they changed people’s thinking around abortion. We need to fight political battles that even if we lost for several years running, we may be in a stronger position than we are now.

    Nordhaus: We need to start winning even when we lose. Right now, the environmental movement loses when it loses and even loses when it wins.

    and

    We’ve got to stop talking about global warming narrowly in terms of carbon emissions and talk about a whole set of very different things — the economy, people’s futures, global trade, and competitiveness.

    and

    Environmentalists offer no inspiring vision for the world or for the country that speaks in any way to the magnitude of the crisis or to the potential of the American people to really make this transformation.

    and

    f, for example, environmentalists don’t consider the high cost of health care, R&D tax credits, and the overall competitiveness of the American auto industry to be “environmental issues,” then who will think creatively about a proposal that works for industry, workers, communities and the environment? If framing proposals around narrow technical solutions is an ingrained habit of the environmental movement, then who will craft proposals framed around vision and values?

    and

    Nearly all of the more than two-dozen environmentalists we interviewed underscored that climate change demands that we remake the global economy in ways that will transform the lives of six billion people. All recognize that it’s an undertaking of monumental size and complexity. And all acknowledged that we must reduce emissions by up to 70 percent as soon as possible.

    But in their public campaigns, not one of America’s environmental leaders is articulating a vision of the future commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis. Instead they are promoting technical policy fixes like pollution controls and higher vehicle mileage standards — proposals that provide neither the popular inspiration nor the political alliances the community needs to deal with the problem.

    and

    The environmental movement’s incuriosity about the interests of potential allies depends on it never challenging the most basic assumptions about what does and doesn’t get counted as “environmental.”

    etc.

    I think you’re trying too hard. You’re not seeing what folks are saying in the rush to defend your position. It’s not a requirement of life to be right.

    Best,

    D

  19. Steve says:

    I cannot help but comment that I think Dano makes many excellent points, foremost of which is that it is not good enough to “be right” if you are not effective in achieving a tangible objective.

    That’s what I saw to be the message in S&N’s paper, “The Death of Environmentalism.” I have not read the book, however, so I cannot comment there. (In the debunking exercises that go on here, it is not always clear what the debunkers are attacking, paper or book.)

    You have to try to fully understand their paper, though, not jump to conclusions from the title or passages taken out of context. The title obviously was intended to be provocative and to incite some interest, not sum up the paper’s message. (Nietzsche used the same tactic in his day, and is still often profoundly misunderstood.)

    I think that Dano also correctly tends to draw from history and human experience outside The Beltway, and does not share the traditional progressive assumption that all good things can be legislated into existence in Washington… that cultural change often precedes legislative enactment… and that engaging each and every person in a cause — little steps do count — is essential.

    Dictating behavioral change, standing alone, is more difficult and unreliable than big central government progressives are willing to admit. The American Civil Rights Movement provides a good example of this intertwined relationship between regulation and behavior, and of course people continue to debate which precedes the other: changes in laws and court rulings, or changes in hearts and minds… or, more likely, a give-and-take back and forth between the two.

    I commend Joe for his energy, commitment, intelligence, and sincere concern in all matters involving energy policy and global warming, but I do understand what some people are trying to say on this blog during the times I occasionally check in to see what is going on. There can be a stern, “one correct answer only” tone to Joe’s posts. Visitors you alienate, Joe, may never say so… they just disappear (save Ron, that persistent clever critter).

    Cheers.

  20. Dano says:

    I would like to say that I chose the Dano character to respond on this site instead of the me. Because the Dano character mirrors what he sees when he comments.

    The purpose for this choice was to, well, make a mirror so that folks can see the consequences of the tactics they choose. Hopefully this leads to change, and I explain change below.

    In this case of the S&N issue across multiple posts, consternation, anger and whatever other emotions come out were the consequences of choosing a particular way to discuss the merits of others’ ideas. Nothing got furthered by “debunking” a misunderstood position, entrenching in a narrow system and stubbornly defending a personal position (oh, yes – it was personalized).

    In fact, we went backwards with the use of ‘ignorant’ and ‘heroes’ to characterize a misunderstood “opponent” and by clinging to these incomplete premises.

    Emotions are important drivers in change, as they are precursors to galvanization. Galvanization and determination make change. Folks are far more likely to be galvanized by something that comes from within them than from without (Steve’s “Beltway”, for example). Note I didn’t say “information drives change”. Information informs the direction of change.

    With this in mind, I’d like to draw attention to Steve’s comment. Not because he agrees with Dano, but because he broke down the problem and restated the issues to inform us. Not to sway us with emotion, but to reintroduce rationality in the discussion.

    But let us not confuse “rationality” with “rationalization”, which is the exercise we just concluded.

    Nonetheless, we should take these lessons and move forward, and remember what Margaret Mead told us:

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

    Keep pushing Joe. It is important to do so.

    Best,

    D

  21. Joe says:

    Well, Steve, I say everyone should learn the facts, come to their own conclusions, and then become passionate advocates. I’m glad you keep coming back, and you might be interested to know that you aren’t alone — visits and page views have risen every month this year.

    I don’t think there is one correct answer only — but there certainly aren’t a lot of answers — time has simply run out. Ironically, since S&N embraced the Obama plan, it is clear is that we have no disagreement about the solution. I just question their methods: They have managed to (needlessly but probably purposefully) alienate most of the environmental community in just a few years. If my posts alienate those who agree with them, so be it!

    I will tell you that I got a phone call out of the blue from one from of the original players in this whole episode, and he thanked me profusely for my posts. So I’ll call this a draw — I pleased as many as I pissed off. That puts me way ahead of S&N.

  22. Joe says:

    Wait, Dano isn’t your real name?
    I thought you were the James MacArthur character from Hawaii 5-0. Damn!
    I confess I do worry a little bit about people who refer to themselves in the third person — but I appreciate the vote of confidence.