Politico Runs Story On Global Warming ‘Rebranding’ 3 Years Late — Then Gets Story Backwards

Shhhh! Don’t tell the Politico that the ‘rebranding’ of global warming happened 3 years ago and now is being reversed by climate champions such as Bill McKibben.

The Politico is known for cutting-edge inside-the-beltway political reporting — if center-right spin is your idea of cutting edge.

Today, however, they ran a story that would have been cutting edge 3 years ago, but is now in fact mostly wrong. Indeed, as we’ll see, the Politico story is actually contradicted by the polling that they cite.

Here is their big ‘scoop’:

‘Global warming’ gets a rebranding

Shhhh! Don’t talk about global warming!

There’s been a change in climate for Washington’s greenhouse gang, and they’ve come to this conclusion: To win, they have to talk about other topics, like gas prices and kids choking on pollutants.

More than two years since Democrats’ cap-and-trade plan died in Congress, the strategic shift represents a reluctant acknowledgment from environmentalists that they’ve lost ground by tackling global warming head-on. Their best bet now lies in a bit of a bait and switch: Help elect global warming fighters by basing campaigns on kitchen-table issues.

What’s funny is that this story would have been news in early 2009 — when I first reported on it (see here). Heck, it still would have been news in mid-2010 when the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote about it in his article, “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?


What the Politico missed entirely is there has been a backlash against that rebranding because many in the progressive and environmental communities realized that the rebranding effort failed, realized that focusing just on topics like gas prices doesn’t work.

How ironic that Politico ran the story next to an ExxonMobil ad for the oil tar sands — since the biggest recent political success of the environmental movement, halting the approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, was done by talking explicitly about global warming, a strategy explicitly championed by one of the leaders of the effort, Bill McKibben.

I asked McKibben to comment on his winning strategy, and he wrote me:

Talking about climate was precisely what rallied most of the people who came out to oppose the Keystone Pipeline. The largest civil disobedience action in 30 years on any issue saw people from all 50 states taking part, not jsut or even mainly the 6 along the pipeline route. When we circled the White House five deep with people, the most common banner was simply a quote from Obama: In my administration the rise of the oceans will begin to slow.

People sense in their bones — especially on a week like this — that the climate is starting to shift — this issue is moving quickly from the theoretical to the deeply real.

Yes, leave it to the Politico to say no one is talking about global warming during one of the most extreme heat waves in the history of the country, one that is so extreme, even major networks are talking about global warming.


I’m not saying that everyone who supports climate action is now talking about global warming — obviously the president and his team still aren’t. I’m merely saying that the story is mostly wrong, that the part that is “news” for the Politico — the supposedly rebranding — happened 3 years ago and the part that should be news for their readers is that there has now been a backlash to that rebranding.

That backlash comes in 2 forms. First, there has been a vast amount of polling and social science research done showing that global warming is a winning political issue (see links below). Indeed we now know climate is a wedge issue that splits the Tea Party extremists from independents and moderate Republicans (see for instance the 2011 work of Stanford public opinion expert Jon Krosnick: Democrats Taking “Green” Positions on Climate Change “Won Much More Often” Than Those Remaining Silent).

Second, more groups like Tarsands Action are starting to talk about climate change again.

Of course, some groups never stopped talking about global warming. You may have heard of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s where I work. Climate Progress is a project of CAPAF. I think it’s safe to say CAPAF never stopped talking about global warming.

So guess how Politico begins its article about this supposedly new rebranding? By quoting CAPAF’s director of climate strategy! Seriously, here’s the quote in the very next paragraph after the excerpts above:

“You don’t have to be James Carville to figure out that talking about people’s health and the health of their children … is going to make a difference to the average voter, ” Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said.

Well, duh. We’ve always talked about all of the benefits of climate action, including public health. Indeed, one of the central points of my blog is that it’s important to explain to people that climate change is going to affect their health and their children’s health.

I asked Weiss to comment on the story::

Advocates continue to talk about global warming and its threat to Americans and other people. This includes direct health impacts such as more smog and tropical diseases. And it also includes educating the public and media about the great human and economic costs posed by more ferocious storms, persistent droughts, sea level rise, ocean acidification and other horrible consequences of unchecked carbon dioxide pollution. Every poll shows the public wants action on global warming and clean air. They want to cut carbon dioxide pollution and increase investments in clean energy technologies since they create jobs, increase security, and cut pollution.

And we’re not even an environmental organization. We just know that it’s important to keep talking about the gravest threat to the health and well-being of Americans and indeed all of humanity.

The Politico relies on one pollster who isn’t actually known for polling in this area to bolster its narrative:

It’s no surprise that climate change has become less important to voters, said Thom Riehle, a longtime Democratic pollster who is now a senior vice president for

Whereas support for climate change mitigation was at 50 percent to 60 percent in 2007, Riehle said, “it’s dramatically lower now.”

Except that isn’t actually true.

Over a dozen polls in the past 3 years show that public support for climate action never wavered, starting back in 2009 — see Mark Mellman must read on climate messaging (5/09): “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action.”


It really doesn’t even matter how you phrased the question — even if you called it “cap-and-trade” — the public wanted climate action in 2009:

Riehle is confusing the public’s answer to some specific polling questions on climate — many of which were poorly worded — with polling questions on support for climate action.

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” and links below):

What’s so head-exploding about the Politico’s article is that in their very article, they themselves published a poll that contradicts Riehle:

So the public overwhelmingly supports stricter limits on carbon dioxide — and they think it would have a positive impact on public health and air quality and even the economy and jobs.

So how precisely does the Politico quote some other pollster claiming support for “climate change mitigation” is “dramatically lower now.” Is the Politico really unaware of the fact that stricter limits on carbon dioxide is the same thing as climate change mitigation?

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