Someday A Climate Hawk Will Run For President, Energizing Democrats And Independents, But Not This Year

Climate change and clean energy are twin wedge issues. They both divide Tea Party extremists from Democrats, independents, and even moderate/liberal Rebuplicans.

As one of the leading experts on public opinion analysis in this area, Stanford’s Jon Krosnick, said earlier this month, candidates “may actually enhance turnout as well as attract voters over to their side by discussing climate change.”

Countless polls have made this clear (see links below), though obviously President Obama and the White House communications office didn’t get the memo: See “Polling Expert: Is Obama’s Reluctance to Mention Climate Change Motivated by a False Assumption About Public Opinion?” So I’m doubtful climate will be a topic of much debate tonight. It looks like we’ll have to wait at least until the next presidential election to get a candidate who runs on this winning wedge issue.

The latest poll is from Pew, which shows the U.S. public’s understanding of climate change is on the rebound:

Currently, 67% say there is solid evidence that the earth’s average temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades, up four points since last year and 10 points since 2009….

A majority of Democrats (56%) say that global warming is a very serious problem. By contrast, just 19% of Republicans think it is a very serious problem while the majority (55%) says it is not too serious or not a problem at all. Among independents, 39% say that global warming is a very serious problem.

Another 26% of independents say it is a “somewhat serious problem” — so nearly 2 out of 3 independents so it is a very or somewhat serious problem. Again, that’s why climate change is a wedge issue.

Chris Mooney interviewed me on this subject for a widely disseminated article. Gotta love The Atlantic‘s headline on this:

Note to self: I told you so.

That article led to an interview with Current TV’s Michael Shure (video here), where I said, among other things:

“It would be great if a member of the media actually asked even one question on what most of us think is the story of the century, which is that we are in the process of ruining this livable climate of ours. And we can still solve the problem if we act now, but obviously if no one talks about it, it’s very hard to solve the problem”

Finally, The Climate Desk sponsored a panel on this subject that I participated in with Paul Bledsoe and Betsy Taylor, author of the must-read Guide For Engaging and Winning on Climate And Clean Energy. Chris Mooney was host and moderator. Here’s his story on the panel and the full video:

“It was always going to be the case that whenever the visible reality of climate change became so painfully obvious that you couldn’t deny it any more, that it was going to flip over to a winning issue. The question was: When was that going to happen?”

So spoke Joseph Romm, the former Clinton energy official and popular blogger behind Climate Progress, at the first Climate Desk Live briefing at the Mott House on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Romm and his fellow panelists—strategist Betsy Taylor of Breakthrough Strategies and Solutions and consultant Paul Bledsoe, who worked in the Clinton White House on climate communications—were in strong agreement that the weather of the last year has transformed climate change into the type of issue that could impact the 2012 election, simply because most Americans now feel directly affected by it. That emphatically includes independents and swing voters.

“One of the problems with climate change is it’s always been distant and remote. This year’s weather made it immediate,” Taylor explained. She showed previously unpublished data from a Harstad Strategic Research survey from May of 2012, showing that 59 percent of Americans agreed that the weather in their area had gotten more extreme or unpredictable over the past several years—and 68 percent agreed that the weather was more volatile than it was during their childhood.

But while national polls may show that the climate issue appeals to independents, the campaign is being fought in a small number of battleground states—Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and so on. At the briefing, the question arose whether the campaigns may have more detailed and granular analyses, suggesting that the issue won’t actually help them in these critical swing states. Could that explain why they’re ignoring climate?

The panel was having none of it. If anything, Bledsoe argued, many of the 2012 swing states ought to be better places for climate messaging, in light of the extreme weather they’ve experienced. “Colorado and New Mexico are two swing states that have experienced extreme wildfires,” he pointed out. And “Florida is on the cutting edge of climate change for a whole variety of reasons, not the least of which, extreme weather but also sea level rise.”

“We’re reaching now the point where almost every state is getting some sort of extreme weather event that is off the charts, including that derecho that ripped across the country and went into Virginia,” Romm added. He cited a recent poll from Yale University and George Mason University researchers, breaking down concern about global warming by US regions. In the Midwest, for instance, the perception that droughts are getting more common has shot up 25 percentage points since March, to 66 percent.

So why, then, aren’t politicians like President Obama taking up climate change messaging to win votes? Taylor said that following the economic collapse of 2008, this was a more or less a conscious strategy. “By the spring of 2009, with the fiscal crisis, there was a decision made, and adopted, not to talk about climate change,” she related. “That was adopted by the majority of the environmental groups, and by the White House. I was at that meeting. Bill McKibben stood up and said, ‘This is a mistake—it’s going to come back and haunt us.’” Talking about clean energy jobs was fine, she continued. But the “C-word” was a no-go.

Romm went further. Asked if there was some individual giving politicians bad strategic advice, he commented, “I will absolutely blame someone. Because I have relatively high confidence, based on conversations I’ve had, that [senior Obama adviser] David Axelrod is the guy who shut down a lot of this talk. And even went up to the Hill and told the Dems not to message the climate science.” Bledsoe added that the scarring experience of failing to pass the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in Congress probably led many Democrats to back away from the issue.

All three panelists agreed that while extreme weather gets Americans to care about climate change, if no solution is offered, people feel overwhelmed, and ultimately fatalistic. The way to get past this, explained Taylor, is to talk about the strength of American ingenuity, and its ability to solve the problem of global warming through new clean energy technologies. In the polling data she presented, 84 percent of Democrats found such a message convincing, as did 61 percent of independents—even 46 percent of Republicans.

For a long time, Americans viewed their shared purpose as “protecting the free world,” Bledsoe elaborated. Taking on the climate change could inspire people to think once again about “what makes America great, what makes it special.” It can “tap into the notion of American exceptionalism and American greatness.

But not if politicians don’t take get past the notion that climate change is a political loser. Such thinking has been refuted by a wave of new data, sampling both national and local audiences. Now, the issue simply awaits its political champion.

Watch the first Climate Desk Live in full, below:

Related Posts:

  • Poll (12/11): Independents, Other Republicans Split With Tea-Party Extremists on Global Warming
  • Poll (4/12): Clean Energy Is A Political Wedge Among Republicans
  • Study (10/11): Democrats Taking “Green” Positions on Climate Change “Won Much More Often” Than Those Remaining Silent
  • Gallup (4/12): 65% of Americans Have More Guts Than Obama, Support ‘Imposing Mandatory Controls On CO2 Emissions’
  • Poll (4/12): Large Majority Of Americans Understand Global Warming Made Several Major Extreme Weather Events Worse
  • Yale Poll (10/12): “Large And Growing Majority Of Americans” Say “Global Warming Is Affecting Weather In The United States”
  • Poll (4/12): 75 Percent of Americans Support Regulating CO2 As A Pollutant, 60 Percent Support Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax


29 Responses to Someday A Climate Hawk Will Run For President, Energizing Democrats And Independents, But Not This Year

  1. Mark E says:

    And maybe that president will create the “Dept of AWG Mitigation” and elevate it to cabinet- level, in which case….. I look forward to your confirmation hearings, Joe!

  2. Paul Magnus says:

    Reality has left the room.
    Now one can see how Easter Is. and such like happens…

    By the next US election I think there will be so much climate disruption that is wont be a typical one.

    In fact a lot may happen in between as food prices skyrocket.

  3. idunno says:

    Sorry, Joe, this is off-topic… but also the funniest thing I saw this week…

  4. Paul Magnus says:

    So disappointed on seeing that video…. “a decision was made not to talk about GW”. Great! What a decision to make. Nice.

  5. In 4 years time we will have already built all the fossil fuel power stations the world can ever build.

    4 years is 8 to 12 years too late.

  6. Lore says:

    To the point of the topic, my fear is that everyone will arrive at the decision to be a climate hawk when humanity is in desperation and it makes little if any difference.

    As the old saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Right now, we’re just busy digging the hole.

  7. Joe Romm says:

    That is funny.

  8. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @ Joe, – You make a valid point that more and more Americans are seeing climate change as a serious problem, it is becoming a wedge issue in swing states, and that while Obama has let everyone down badly by not playing the climate card up to now, the next time there will almost certainly be a climate hawk running for the White House.

    Yes, it is quite likely tha there will be a climate hawk running next time, because in the interim America is likely to experience severe droughts every year throughout the lower states.

    But I put it to you that maybe another factor will come into play in the next few years: international pressure. It may not be apparent to many Americans that the failure of the US to transform its energy policy and cut emissions radically is not playing out well across the world. With the graphs all showing America second only to China in total annual emissions of greenhouse gases, it is not lost on the rest of the world that the US is responsible for much of the climate chaos we are now witnessing.

    Attacks on US embassies may look like religious fundamentalism, but it is hardly coincidence that the unrest in Arab states running from Libya through Egypt to the Middle East is all taking place in countries that are experiencing heat extremes and water shortages the like of which they have never seen before. It is quite likely that many citizens in those countries blame America for the unbearably hot, dry weather they are living through. Sooner or later this will come back and bite America in the ass. The most powerful countries will make their views known first: expect China to signal their displeasure if Romney gets into the White House.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    We don’t know that the decision to avoid climate change was made by Axelrod, and that could easily be a planted story. It’s equally possible that Axelrod is the messenger boy for Exxon, Koch, Peabody, and Citibank.

    Any Administration’s delegating global warming to the guest closet represents a serious deriliction of their contract with the American people. If we had a real Congress, there would be an investigation.

  10. Anne says:

    Good to see POTUS crush GovRomney in the final round of the debate tonite, bringing up the 47% Mother Jones tape… but geez louise, he talked about “clean coal” and seemed to compete with Romney to drill-baby-drill on public lands! Also talked about renewable energy as if it’s 10 years in the future, very disappointing. The word climate not used once. Holdren, Chu, and Jackson should all resign in protest; it’s a disgrace. The power of corporate gag orders is evident in their silence.

  11. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    It is clear that when debating energy, Pres. Obama falls short for one reason, which is that he cannot bring himself to saying that we face an existential threat from “dirty energy” because of global warming. Because of this, he has a problem communicating the reasons why we must intervene in the economy for clean energy and efficiency.

    The problem is that there is a conspiracy in america to deny and ignore global warming, we know who leads this conspiracy, it is wall steet and other wealth interests.

    until last year, no one in america dared to discuss the wealth gap, and the fact that the lower classes were suffering, to further inrich the fabulously wealthy. Thanks to occupy wall street, americans are now talking about the wealth gap and how unfair our economic system is.

    The environmental movement needs to use effective strategies from ows to inform the public about the imminent threat of global warming / climate change. The recent reports about the likely food crisis due to climate change in the coming years is a good place to start.

  12. max says:

    The buck stops with the President. He has many advisors- he has the ability to overrule Axelrod. Who else is giving him advice-where is Holdren, Chu, Browner, Napolitano, Jackson-what are they saying? Where are his pollsters who are reading the same polls you are citing about independents’ views?

  13. Wonhyo says:

    Environmentalists often lose because they are always one step behind. The prolonged public denial gives environmentalists a chance to get ahead of the issue. Once the public finally accepts the reality, severity, and urgency of climate change, what will the oil and gas industry do?

    I predict they will turn to promoting geoengineering, i.e. fertilizing oceans and seeding the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide. This “solution” to climate change will require large-scale engineering projects that companies like Halliburton and Bechtel will be able to provide, and profit from.

    Of course, this kind of geoengineering solution is likely to make things worse, not better.

    If environmentalist want to prevail, they need to start campaigning against dangerous geoengineering now.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It is getting awfully late in the day to do something. I see an equal chance that the election in four or eight years ( no further out) held amidst climate and weather chaos, will produce some new type of carefully confected demagogue, one, as ever, promising, that the great US Public can continue to have its cake and eat it, ie to carry out some massive geo-engineering boondoggle to ensure that no sacrifices are needed, particularly not from the rich.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It is a simple, easily understood, chain of events. Climate destabilisation is real. It is caused primarily by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. To avert auto-genocide we must decarbonise as fast as humanly possible. To do so absolutely requires mining and combusting as little fossil carbon as possible. That renders the tens of trillions in fossil fuel assets worthless. That mass of capital underpins international neo-liberal capitalism. Therefore every capitalist boss must be a denialist, a hedger, a prevaricator or a traitor to his caste. Obama, as an employee of the US ruling caste, its businessmen, cannot do the needful. And he has remained steadfastly loyal to his real Masters, and that ain’t the public.

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Obama is controlled by his minders. They represent the business and political forces that have groomed and promoted Obama from his college days. Obama is a front-man, the agent of others, who pull the strings from behind the scenes. The last four years have demonstrated that truth, emphatically.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    They will also push for more nakedly authoritarian rule. Expect a ‘Green 9/11’ some false-flag atrocity that can be blamed on ‘extreme Green terrorists’ and the public whipped up into a new fury, as has occurred over the last eleven years in regard to Moslems. Murdoch will happily provide the propaganda ammunition, as will his ilk.

  18. Kota says:

    There is a climate hawk running for president. She is on 85% of the ballots. This headline like the rest of the media is negating her. What we do not have is a climate hawk in the debates for president.

  19. Jim Baird says:

    Will Rogers was wise enough to point out that “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

    Willie Sutton also had something germane to say with respect to energy and the environment.

  20. Jim Baird says:

    We are not eunuch’s. Bitching and moaning on sites like this does little to resolve the problem. There is strength in numbers and a whole lot of money to be made putting “dirty energy” out of business. Preserving our children’s future is worth fighting for. Or we can stand by and fiddle?

  21. Paul Magnus says:

    Yep, Mother Nature has stepped in to sort things out now…

  22. Standing in the way of geoengineering is the desire of the Powers That Be to exploit the fossil-fuel and mineral resources beneath the Arctic oceans, in Greenland and probably beneath the Antarctic ice.

    What? Refreeze the Arctic ocean? When there is so much money to be made?

  23. “At the briefing, the question arose whether the campaigns may have more detailed and granular analyses, suggesting that the issue won’t actually help them in these critical swing states. Could that explain why they’re ignoring climate?”

    The response to this in the article is still non-conclusive. Panelists saying how voters in various states “ought” to vote are speculating, not speaking from data.

    And even regional polling does not address the issue of actual voting patterns at the swing state level. That is still fundamental, and not yet addressed.

  24. Raul M. says:

    was Christ a mediator who was not allowed to mediate? If so is to be Christ like to accept not being able to mediate and thus not having to suffer death. Or is it closser that we will all suffer death for the sins of humanity so that we can be Christ-like. Or does Christ come with the power of the forces of nature unleashed to restore the balance of nature to nature and to take the balance away from man and thus restore the power of nature as the guiding force of the world?
    Such questions? And such promise of a new Earth. Still wondering if the new proctice of burning a diamond outside on a windy day qualifies as getting some diamond on all the walls of buildings?
    Bye have a nice day.

  25. Raul M. says:

    They probably best the White House on the fact that there are federal taxes on gas at the pump.
    But they have a problem in saying that they are for lowering taxes when it is the income tax that is targeted rather than lowering the need for gas at the pump. It is a bait and switch of reason and course of action.

  26. Ernest says:

    Besides the steroids analogy, another way out of statistical trap is to emphasize impacts that people can relate to in their everyday life. I’m thinking specifically of food and water. Joe was right on on the “jobs of the future”. That’s a clear relatable concrete message. But even nearer term, 2013, we can start making the link between food prices and the extreme weather events of 2012.

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    About the only weapon left to the disempowered proles in the Western pseudo-democracies is the boycott. MK Gandhi organised boycotts by powerless Indian peasants against the mighty English Empire, and it worked. We ought, I believe, begin by boycotting the sham democratic major parties, and vote Green, even if they are bound to sell out to the rich. Then vote for someone else, but never the ‘lesser evil’. Then the Rightwing MSM must be targeted through the advertising industry. Hit the advertisers and strangle the hate and denial MSM where it hurts- in the pocket.

  28. Sasparilla says:

    It’s very true. The Green Party candidate is totally off the radar for the normal U.S. citizen as the party and candidate has been totally ignored by the U.S. media – as in no visibility whatsoever.

    She will be on most states ballots. For states where the race is not close one way or the other, I’d vote for her.

    For states where the race is close it becomes a much tougher choice, while Obama has been MIA (or worse) on Climate Change he has been a friend to green energy (and the GOP and Romney have pledged to kill it as their actions in the house have demonstrated over these last years). In close states I’d probably vote for Obama just for the green energy angle.