January 22, 2009

We May Well Be Doomed

Via Ryan Avent, not only has public support for action on global warming declined in the face of the recession, but it seems we're even going backward on the causes of warming:
Forty-four percent (44%) of U.S. voters now say long-term planetary trends are the cause of global warming, compared to 41% who blame it on human activity.

Seven percent (7%) attribute global warming to some other reason, and nine percent (9%) are unsure in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democrats blame global warming on human activity, compared to 21% percent of Republicans. Two-thirds of GOP voters (67%) see long-term planetary trends as the cause versus 23% of Democrats. Voters not affiliated with either party by eight points put the blame on planetary trends.

In July 2006, 46% of voters said global warming is caused primarily by human activities, while 35% said it is due to long-term planetary trends.
Ryan's comment on this is spot on:
Our political leaders have to see themselves as having the responsibility to educate voters on this. They have to make warming an issue. And this is why its so damaging for newspapers to believe that it’s ok to run “contrarian” takes on climate change, or to use “fake balance” — finding some wingnut denialist to counter the opinion of an actual climate scientist in the name of fairness. Opinions on the shape of the earth differ, it’s true, but we can say definitively that some are right and others wrong. If the stewards of the press can’t tell the story like it is, then I don’t know how we can hope to educate voters on the topic.
I would add to this the dead-ender behavior of the Republican Party, which exploits traditional media's obsession with balance on political issues to obfuscate even the underlying science on global warming. It's true, of course, that there a wide range of potential responses to global warming, from carbon pricing to energy efficiency to biofuels to new nuclear plants to carbon sequestration, with some being more effective than others. But it's hard to have an honest discussion of these options when you have a political party whose leaders routinely alter the facts to fit their ideology.

At the same time, as I've said, environmental groups seem not to be sufficiently mobilized to push Congress to adopt a comprehensive climate change bill, in the way that health care advocates are for health reform. It feels weird to say, but it seems like there was stronger support for action on global warming in 2006-2007, when environmentalists were largely shut out of power, than there is now, with a much more hospitable President and Congress. Part of that was likely the galvanizing effect of Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth; but I also think that, as we get closer to actually passing a climate change bill, we may lose a lot of people who will flinch at the possibility of adding untold new costs on the economy. I'm not convinced that climate change regulations will be an economy-wrecker, for reasons Carl Pope mentions here, but overcoming faintheartedness, I think, will be the greater task than overcoming denialist propaganda.

UPDATE: Brad Plumer has a less alarmist take.

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