Advocating Climate Change

Couldn’t agree more with The Economist’s analysis of how to approach the climate issue.


At Duck of Minerva, Josh Busby, a political scientist at the University of Texas, looks at two alternatives: “Get Angry” or “Go Right”. The first would involve a more voluble environmental movement as a counterweight to the fractious climate sceptics (who are, keep in mind, the minority)—a sort of “Green Tea Party” organised around such issues as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The second strategy would involve building the coalition by reaching out to Republicans, by focusing on the potential economic benefits of a shift to clean power, for example, or the national-security implications of dependence on oil imports.

With regard to the first strategy, targeted anger, as opposed to the inchoate variety, can be useful and convincing. Around the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill, for example, some noted that the environmental impact of the “disaster” was looking less catastrophic than people had initially predicted. They took this as evidence that people had overreacted. But another way of looking at it is that the public fury over the spill was key to spurring the response that mitigated the impact. Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to regulate mercury, a pollutant that can harm pregnancies, over the protests of nearly half of the states and most congressional Republicans. Speaking at SXSWEco earlier this month, Mary Anne Hitt of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, argued that the EPA’s ability to fight back has been strengthened by the public’s response. On issues where the harm is discernable and logical responses are readily available, public anger can drive change.

When it comes to climate change, however, Mr Busby is rightly sceptical of the angry approach: “Even if this movement were successful, it might get attached to policies that ultimately prove unworkable. The Tea Party’s influence on the debt ceiling debate may be instructive.” Building a bigger tent, he reckons, would be more effective, partly because it would mitigate the risk of negative political externalities such as partisan polarisation and would therefore be more sustainable over the long term.

The “going right” strategy also benefits from the fact that it’s possible to address climate change without making it primarily or even overtly about climate change. There are a lot of policies and developments afoot that have climate benefits without being framed as such. The mercury regulation is one. The EPA’s action focuses on the impacts to human health, but one result of the regulation will be to raise the costs of burning coal, a major climate culprit. Another example comes from Texas, the nation’s leading wind-power state and not a particular friend of the environment. Last week in Fort Worth, I met a wind executive from Amarillo. I asked whether he supports wind for the environmental benefits or for strictly business reasons. Business, he said. Then he added something that flips the usual script about renewable energy: a few weeks earlier he had been in Copenhagen, and was struck by the casual environmentalism of the Danes. As a result, he had started to think about the environment, and had been riding his bike to work. In, again, Amarillo.