Oct 20, 2010

Post of the month

Dave Roberts brings some optimism on the politics of climate change.  He says the problem is not education, but intensity of advocacy:
Along these lines, it's worth digging into the new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. At the NYT, Felicity Barringer highlights the ignorance it reveals -- for instance, over two-thirds think aerosol sprays contribute to climate change (er, no, that's the ozone layer you're thinking about). Most people accept the basic fact that the climate is changing but know very little about the nature and causes of those changes.

On the somewhat brighter side, most people know they don't know much and want to know more. And they trust scientists, more than anyone else, to provide them good information:
Americans' most trusted sources of information about global warming are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (78%), the National Science Foundation (74%), scientists (72%), science programs on television (72%), natural history museums (73%), and science museums (72%).
(In other words, the relentless right-wing campaign to slander climate scientists hasn't worked, "Climategate" hoo-ha aside.) [...]

I'm sure there are tons of things that could be done to accelerate those processes, some of which I'll be discussing soon, but it's worth noting both trends seem all but inevitable. Denialism is of a piece with the Tea Party freak-out, and just like reactionary freak-outs past, it will burn itself out as the economy improves. At the same time, young people are much more likely to feel passionately about clean energy and climate change mitigation. They've been learning about this stuff all their lives and they take it for granted. As they take over, the balance will shift.

Admittedly, these trends are medium- to long-term and of no comfort to a candidate who's getting killed over cap-and-trade today. Still, it's not wise to project the peculiar circumstances of the last two years into the indefinite future. The backlash against cap-and-trade -- not even the policy, the grotesque caricature of it painted by its opponents -- won't hold back the low-carbon tide forever. Voters already love clean energy; they think fossil fuels should be subsidized less and renewables more. The EPA is moving, states are moving, cities are moving, businesses are moving. As such efforts touch more and more lives, the issue will become less abstract. As people integrate clean energy into their worldview, intensity against climate science will fade and intensity behind reforms will increase.

Y'all know I'm not exactly a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I really think the death of the climate bill is a "darkest before the dawn" kind of moment. The larger forces of history are moving in the right direction. There's only so long America's peculiar, dysfunctional political system can resist.
That is by far the most convincing optimistic thing I've read on climate change. Know hope.

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