Matthew Nisbett’s Climate Shift report critiquing the failures of the “green” movement to obtain a climate change bill is all the rage in enviornmentalist circles this week. Joe Romm and Chris Mooney both offer forceful critiques on specific points and I think Kate Sheppard and Brad Plumer have persuasive responses.
But most generally, I don’t think it’s always clear what it is that explanations of the climate bill’s failure are supposed to explain. I think there are three important questions here that are largely distinct:
One: Why did the Democratic Party prioritize health care reform over energy policy reform in 2009?
Two: Why did conservative elites who favored energy policy reform in 2007-2008 change their minds in 2009-2010?
Three: Why were politicians more afraid to vote “yes” on a climate bill than to vote “no” on one?
It seems to me that most of the explanatory work has gone into answering question (3) which I think is a mistake. Messaging, organizing, etc. played a role in this. But at the same time, factors (1) and (2) played a huge rule in setting the stage for (3). In the 2008 campaign, John McCain’s team was trying to persuade Grist readers that he had the better climate change policy. Had it continued to be the case that prominent conservatives were pushing for a climate change bill and the leaders of the Democratic Party made this their top priority, then the politics facing members in marginal states would have been totally different.