"Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?"
Let’s be clear: Strong action to reduce carbon pollution is crucial to preserving clean air, clean water, and a livable climate for our children.
In his analysis of Obama’s primetime speech, WashPost blogger Ezra Klein underscores a point that I’ve made many times here:
To expand a bit on a point I made on Rachel Maddow’s show, I’m just not sure how you do a response to climate change if you can’t really say the words “climate change.” And that’s where we are right now: The actual problem we’re trying to solve is politically, if not scientifically, controversial. And so politicians, rather than continuing to try to convince the American people that we need to do something about it, have started talking about more popular policies that are related to solving climate change. You see this in Lindsey Graham’s effort to argue for carbon-pricing from a place of purported climate-change skepticism. You see it in pollster Joel Benenson’s memo that tries to persuade legislators to vote for a climate bill without ever using those words. And you saw it in Barack Obama’s speech last night, which was all about clean energy and grand challenges.
You can see full Maddow segment here.
Certainly, some progressives pollsters have managed to convince some progressives and environmentalists to downplay talk of global warming with seriously flawed analysis (see “Messaging 101b: EcoAmerica’s phrase ‘our deteriorating atmosphere’ isn’t going to replace ‘global warming’ “” and that’s a good thing“). And certainly the president’s key advisers have been suckered into this view [see "The unbearable lameness of being (Rahm and Axelrod)"].
In response to this, Rachel said that no one wants to hear about climate change. The operative emotion here has to be inspiration, not fear. And she’s right about that. The polling certainly backs her up. But that strikes me as depressing evidence of how unlikely we are to succeed. I simply don’t believe you could’ve passed health care if you couldn’t have talked about covering the uninsured, and I don’t think stimulus would’ve worked without the spur of the unemployed. It’s not that people wanted to hear about either subject all day, but they got both problems on a visceral enough level that the action being taken at least made a sort of sense.
My fear is that if we ever get to the place where the action being taken makes a sort of sense as a way to address the problem, public opinion will collapse because it’s built on such a flimsy foundation. Talking about clean energy isn’t a lie, of course. But a bill to mitigate climate change isn’t a jobs bill, as Nancy Pelosi has argued, and it’s more than just a bill to make sure China doesn’t capture to much of the renewable-energy business. It’s going to be a big bill with some unpopular stuff in it because it’s trying to do a hard and important thing. And if Americans have been told that this bill will be all goodies — all jobs and energy and so forth — it’s hard to imagine them sticking around once they hear that the price of electricity is going to jump up, even if only by a little bit.
Well, actually, they will stick around according to the polling (see “Memo to policymakers: Public STILL favors the transition to clean energy” and links below):
All that said, I think the politics of this are rapidly moving toward an efficiency and innovation-investment solution, and that bill does look more like goodies and can be sold on these grounds. That still leaves the question of how to pay for it, but at least it matches where the polling is on this subject. The downside is that it doesn’t match the actual problem we’re trying to solve.
In fact, some of the best pollsters know that you can and should talk about climate change (see Mark Mellman must read on climate messaging: “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” “” ecoAmerica “could hardly be more wrong”). Mellman calls the ecoAmerica polling that suggests one shouldn’t talk about global warming, a “politically na¯ve, methodologically flawed and factually inaccurate study.”
Sure, if you talk about any subject in a clumsy fashion you will turn people off — just look at how Obama and major progressive politicians managed to turn a winning political issue, health care reform, into an unpopular one!
Yes, much of the climate language that gets tested is truly lame. But the fact that poor messaging fails is not an argument for not doing messaging on the subject at all!
What is especially lame I think is that many (but not all) progressives and environmentalists have stopped even talking about any of the basic environmental benefits of clean energy. Here’s a simple message (to go with the energy independence and clean energy jobs pitch): Strong action to reduce carbon pollution is crucial to preserving and improving clean air, clean water, and a livable climate for our children. If you can’t even utter that basic sentence or something like it, you simply aren’t serious about explaining to the public why they need to put a price on carbon pollution. “Global warming pollution” can also be interchanged with “carbon pollution.” I tend to use both. “Carbon” happens to be shorter and punchier, but then I devote a significant fraction of my talks to global warming.
Even the pre-incoherent Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued:
“The idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you’re not serious about energy independence. The odd thing is you’ll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you’ll never clean up the air until you price carbon.“
Not that hard, is it?
I’ll end with something I wrote a year ago about the counterproductive and ultimately self-destructive notion progressives and environmentalists shouldn’t talk about global warming:
We are engaged in a multi-year messaging struggle here. The planet is going to get hotter and hotter, the weather is going to get more extreme. One of the reasons to be clear and blunt in your messaging about this is that even if you don’t persuade people today, the overall message will grow in credibility as reality unfolds as we have warned. To shy away from telling people the truth because they don’t want to hear it or they think it’s liberal claptrap is just incredibly un-strategic. EcoAmerica doesn’t want people to talk about “global warming.” And “” even worse “” they don’t want people to talk about extreme weather, which, as I have previously argued, is in fact the same thing that the climate disinformers want “” see “Why do the disinformers try to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather?” You must tell people what is coming, not just because it is strategic messaging, but also I believe because we have a moral responsibility.
- Public support for action on global warming has grown since January
- Opinion polls underestimate Americans’ concern about the environment and global warming
- Swing state poll finds 60% “would be more likely to vote for their senator if he or she supported the bill” and Independents support the bill 2-to-1 (9/09)
- New CNN poll finds “nearly six 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)
- 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)
- It’s all about Independents “” and Independence (1/10)
- 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)