“we need to figure out a way to get people in more places to listen to our case on the merits….”
“Frankly a couple of electoral losses attributable to bad environmental records would do a tremendous amount to restore some political will.”
Those are excerpts from an email sent me by Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund. I asked him to elaborate on and/or clarify his controversial comments as quoted in this Greenwire/NYT piece, “EDF Chief: ‘Shrillness’ of Greens Contributed to Climate Bill’s Failure in Washington,” which a number of people e-mailed to me or posted comments on.
No one was more central to the environmental community’s strategy and tactics in the fight to pass a climate bill than Krupp, which is made clear in Eric Pooley’s must-read book on the bill’s life and death, The Climate War.
Unlike some, I don’t think the strategy was particularly flawed, even if it was far from perfect. And even though I have issues with some of the communications tactics, in fact a majority of Americans ended up supporting strong climate action (see “Downplaying climate change was and is a blunder for progressives” and links below).
In dividing up blame for the failure, I think the anti-science crowd and their disinformation campaign and associated think tanks, pundits, and right-wing media deserve about 60% of the blame. The MSM, perhaps 30%. The do-little centrists and confusionists get another 5%.
But introspection is inevitable and useful after such seminal failure. What follows is Krupp’s entire email to me:
I’d like to thank Joe for giving me the opportunity to continue the conversation about how we begin to rebuild public support for climate action and the political will to pass climate legislation. Those are not necessarily the same thing, though they clearly overlap – and each requires attention. In short, the political will of politicians can, and often does come from places other than the public, and in fact political decisions often fly in the face of public opinion. More on political will at the end.
In terms of public support, Joe this week has a thought-provoking piece on the messaging war surrounding cap and trade bills in the last Congress, and this week at the [Fortune] Brainstorm Green conference I offered some of my own thoughts about how we can reengage the public in a meaningful dialogue about climate change that helps us move forward.
One of my comments that’s received a lot of attention is that the environmental community needs to lose some of the “shrillness” that’s permeated our advocacy over the last few years. By that, I certainly didn’t mean to somehow suggest that those opposed to action were ok in there shrillness. Scare tactics and deliberate partisanship by our opponents were a major contributor to the atmosphere that blocked climate action in the Senate, as were a number of other factors.
What I did mean was that in order to overcome those tactics and partisanship, we needed to do a better job of engaging with the public, rather than often just lecturing. We need to do a better job of listening, and of connecting to needs as the public sees them, rather than just telling them what they ought to be worried about. In that space we can have a conversation, and in that space we can break down the barriers that too often exist around the discussion of climate. Otherwise, much of the country tends to tune us out, creating too much room for the other side to sow their fear and confusion.
Another way of saying this is that I think it is in our best interest to figure out how to bring the debate back to a more reasoned discussion. In that kind of calmer discussion, facts and science – about economics, about impacts – will play a bigger role, which can only help our cause. We will not likely have 60 pro-environment senators any time soon, so we need to figure out a way to get people in more places to listen to our case on the merits. Right now, they tune us out, and I don’t think being in-your-face will help fix that.
Having said that, the other piece of this is direct interaction with pubic officials, and about how we create and support political will within that group. I remain an advocate of reasoned arguments for elected officials – but there are clearly times when strategies have to reach beyond that as well. This is an area where I think Joe and I agree: we need to do a far better job of holding members of Congress accountable when they vote against protecting public health and welfare. When someone like Senator Jim Inhofe deliberately distorts the truth, we need to hit back hard with the facts. And when members of Congress – Democrats or Republicans – reach for demagoguery rather than solutions, when they agree to attack EPA rather than lead, they need to be called out, and strongly.
Frankly a couple of electoral losses attributable to bad environmental records would do a tremendous amount to restore some political will. That’s just different than re-engaging the public.
I would echo Krupp’s point that getting public support for climate action (which we were successful in doing, see links below) and getting political will to pass climate legislation (e.g. 60 votes in the Senate) are not the same thing.
I’d be very interested in your thoughts on this subject and on Krupp’s comments.
- Yet another poll shows Americans support the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill “” and know the planet is warming “” even in face of anti-science noise machine (8/09)
- New CNN poll finds “nearly 6 in 10 independents support cap and trade” (10/09)
- Voters in Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri overwhelmingly support action on clean energy and global warming (11/09)
- GOP-learning voters support bipartisan action on energy (12/09)
- Overwhelming US Public Support for Global Warming Action (12/09)
- Public Opinion Stunner: WashPost-ABC Poll Finds Strong Support for Global Warming Reductions Despite Relentless Big Oil and Anti-Science Attacks (12/09)
- Yale: When asked whether they “support or oppose regulation carbon dioxide”¦as pollutant,” 73 percent said yes, with only 27 percent opposed, including 61 percent of Republicans (2/10)
- Opinion polls underestimate Americans’ concern about the environment and global warming (5/10)
- Public support for action on global warming has grown since January (6/10)