Last week the UK Guardian published a bombshell piece on the origins of the fatefully dreadful decision to try to sell the climate bill without talking about the climate
The story describes a March 2009 meeting at the Old Executive Office Building, the White House informed the leading environmental groups that it had decided climate change was not a winning message. The blunt headline:
Revealed: the day Obama chose a strategy of silence on climate change
Betsy Taylor, president of Breakthrough Strategies and Solutions, was at the meeting:
“What was communicated in the presentation was: ‘This is what you talk about, and don’t talk about climate change’.” Taylor said. “I took away an absolutely clear understanding that we should focus on clean energy jobs and the potential of a clean energy economy rather than the threat of climate change.”
The message stuck. Subsequent campaigns from the Obama administration and some environmental groups relegated climate change to a second-tier concern.
Most (but not all) environmental groups either agreed with the conclusion or felt they were not in a position to do go against the White House strategy:
“When the White House invites you to a meeting and says: ‘here is how we are going to talk about these things’, it sends a very clear message,” said Erich Pica, president of the US Friends of the Earth Action, who was also at the meeting.
Now with Obama fighting for re-election, and the climate agenda stalled and under constant attack from Republicans and industry, environmental groups acknowledge the go-softly strategy was a mistake.
I have confirmed with Taylor and Pica the accuracy of this story, one more sad chapter in the textbook the Obama administration is writing on how not to do communications.
In 2010 I discussed Eric Pooley’s reporting that former White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod and former Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel were the driving force behind the decision to downplay climate change — see “The unbearable lameness of being (Rahm and Axelrod).” I learned independently that the White House communications team (whom Axelrod helped set direction for) shot down a late-2009 effort by the Office of Science and Technology Policy to push back against the phoney attack on climate science the followed the theft of the University of East Anglia e-mails.
It bears repeating that this White House “strategy” was a bad idea from the beginning and based on faulty polling analysis (see, for instance,”Polling Expert: Is Obama’s Reluctance to Mention Climate Change Motivated by a False Assumption About Public Opinion?” and links below).
Support for climate action and aggressive clean energy policies actually rose slightly in 2010 climate action even during the depths of the recession, even in the face of an unprecedented fossil-fuel-funded disinformation campaign during the climate bill debate — even without the White House using its bully pulpit to tip the scales further (see “Memo to policymakers: Public STILL favors the transition to clean energy“).
The fact is climate action and clean energy have both consistently been shown to be winning “wedge issues” that split the most conservative elements of the Republican party from moderates and independents, who are closer to Democrats on both issues (see Krosnick: Candidates “May Actually Enhance Turnout As Well As Attract Voters Over To Their Side By Discussing Climate Change“).
The Guardian story asserts, “The White House, after studying polling and focus groups, concluded it was best to frame climate change as an economic opportunity, a chance for job creation and economic growth, rather than an urgent environmental problem.”