Breaking Ice: Suddenly, Climate Change is Politically Potent

July 29, 2013

Complex systems are hard to change, but when they do begin to transform, those changes can come rapidly. It’s true of politics as it is of ice sheets.

I posted last week on new polling data showing young people regard climate denial as a sure sign of ignorance, stupidity, and blindness.  National Journal chimes in with analysis.

National Journal:

In the summer of 2009, a dozen Democratic members of Congress took a deep breath and put their political futures on the line, voting for historic global-warming legislation President Obama had told them was a top priority. After the bill squeaked through the House, Democrats pleaded with the White House: After taking this risk, they needed Obama to go to bat for them—and the bill—with speeches, campaign appearances, constituent outreach, anything.

He didn’t. Behind the scenes, White House advisers counseled the president not to waste his political capital on climate change. It was too risky. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the plug on the bill in summer 2010. That fall, Republicans went hard after House Democrats who had voted for it, causing many to lose their seats—and Democrats to lose control of the House. And on the campaign trail last year, Obama followed the advice of his staff and barely mentioned climate change, to the dismay of his environmental base.

Suddenly, that’s all changed. Now, it seems, Obama can’t stop talking about climate change. In both his Inaugural Address and the State of the Union, he spoke at length and with passion about his commitment to tackling the warming climate. Last month, in a sweeping, nearly hour-long speech, Obama presented a historic set of new climate policies, centered on Environmental Protection Agency regulations to slash coal pollution. EPA’s new administrator, Gina McCarthy, will soon set off on a high-profile road trip to tout the climate rules in speeches, public meetings, town halls, and wherever else there’s a case to be made.

The administration is paying attention to polls showing that championing climate policies is now potentially a political winner and—perhaps more significantly—that denying the science that demonstrates human activities cause climate change, as Republican candidates did in 2012, is a clear political loser.

In particular, White House officials are heeding a poll released earlier this year by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. It found that 58 percent of registered voters say they will consider a candidate’s position on global warming when deciding how to vote; among that group, 83 percent say global warming is happening, and 65 percent believe it is caused by human activity. Just 5 percent of registered voters believe global warming isn’t real and say that belief would influence their choice for president.

“My takeaway is, there is a lot more support for climate action in general, and for specific climate policies, than elected officials seem to appreciate,” said Edward Maibach, a George Mason University professor and the director of the climate-communication center there. Strategists say the way for politicians to leverage the issue may not be to campaign as deep-green climate champions, but to instead paint opponents as anti-science. Voters—particularly, younger and moderate voters—associate climate-science denial with being ignorant and out of touch. That’s the strategy the League of Conservation Voters deployed in 2012, when it spent $15 million on a national campaign to elect “pro-climate” candidates. The group targeted what it called the “Flat Earth Five” Republican lawmakers who aggressively denied climate science. Four of the five lost their seats.


Republican strategists have laid out an aggressive game plan for seizing the high ground on energy during the August recess: talk about gas prices and jobs, jobs, jobs.

But some Republicans are straying from the script, spouting off instead about the Book of Genesis, claims about scientific conspiracies and arguments that the Earth is cooling. And they show no signs of stifling their skepticism — even at the risk of providing a stream of YouTube-worthy sound bites that play into Democrats’ own strategy, which includes painting the GOP as the anti-science party.

The Republicans’ skeptic caucus includes Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a former House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, who grabbed headlines in April when he called Noah’s flood “an example of climate change,” and California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who told POLITICO that the idea of manmade global warming is a “fraud” and a “big lie.” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), former chairman of the Environment and Public Works panel, has famously called climate change the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” a phrase he used for the title of his book on the topic.

The pro-Obama group Organizing for Action has prepared for the August push by publishing an online database of dozens of Capitol Hill climate “deniers,” including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Boehner made the list for a 2009 interview in which he blamed carbon dioxide emissions partly on “every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do.”

Republicans who don’t take climate change seriously risk losing support from women and young people, said former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during George W. Bush’s first term. “The American people are beginning to make connections to the things that are happening around them.”

Some polls back up the warnings. A recent one issued by the League of Conservation Voters found that 73 percent of young voters — including 52 percent of young Republicans — would be less likely to support candidates who don’t want to address climate change. Asked to describe climate skeptics, respondents used terms like “ignorant,” “out of touch” and “crazy.”

Climate skepticism also threatens to hurt Republicans among Latinos, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. He said Hispanics care more about climate change than any other group in the U.S.

Disputing climate science is “a successful individual strategy” for some Republicans in conservative districts, but “it’s a losing national strategy,” Leiserowitz said. “I think chances are they will pay a political price, increasingly so in the future.”

Politico again:

The White House, congressional Democrats and their allies are plotting an August recess offensive to promote President Barack Obama’s climate change plan and head off Republican opposition.

The full-court press shows that liberals have learned from past August congressional recesses, when Republicans, aided by the tea party, out organized Democrats and managed to demonize cap and trade and blame them for high gas prices.

“The Democrats should seize the opportunity to contrast themselves with the nihilistic House Republicans by advocating solutions to these challenges — including climate change,” said Daniel Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The strategy is two-fold. First, liberals hope to better articulate the threats posed by climate change to the average citizen, including sea level rise, drought and wildfires. Second, they plan to call out Republicans in Congress who are skeptical about climate change science.

Below, the famous “Lies from the Pit of Hell” address from GOP congressman member of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.


The pro-Obama group Organizing for Action has prepared for the August push by publishing an online database of dozens of Capitol Hill climate “deniers,” including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Boehner made the list for a 2009 interview in which he blamed carbon dioxide emissions partly on “every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do.”

Keep those comments coming, Democrats and their allies say.


19 Responses to “Breaking Ice: Suddenly, Climate Change is Politically Potent”

  1. It is getting harder for the anti-science climate change deniers to convince people there is no problem when people are standing up to their waists in water in their living rooms, or when wild fires are burning their houses and tornadoes and super hurricanes are blowing them away. It is obvious that the poles are melting. Most people have their own experiences now and are not being swayed nearly as much by the propaganda of the vested interests. They can make up their own minds. Climate changes deniers must be prevented from holding public office. They are causing gridlock and are preventing democracy from working.

    • mfellion Says:

      You are the denier and the anti science types, you claim something that is not supported by the science, namely that man is warming the planet. To silent the deniers than you claim they are anti climate change and anti science. That is the resort of the people reduced to slurs when something is not going their way. 800K years of ice core studies and zero correlation between CO2 levels and climate change, zero correlation between present CO2 levels and climate change, the IPCC consensus model projects a temperature in 2100 Ad which is the same as in 1000 AD if you look up the temperature reconstructions. Why not admit what you want is not climate change but total control so you can do what you know is best for everyone just like the communists or N a z I types.

  2. omnologos Says:

    hmmm….”Yale Project on Climate Change Communication”, “George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication”, “Center for American Progress” and “Organizing for Action”…

    This will be on more sure footing when others will join the tune, not so obviously associated with advocating around climate change.

  3. petersjazz Says:

    Why is not the water resource problem in the lists of couses. Isnt that the biggest threat? If glaciers melt fresh water will not be available to billions as explained by prof Guzman in a youtube clip

    • mfellion Says:

      Why not think instead of repeating talking heads like Guzman who make a living from claiming the sky is falling. The melting ice water is a limited resource, the problem is not the resource it is the exploding populations dependent on a limited resource. The countries involved need to limit population and build water containing dams just like the US did and does. One tiny problem with Gusman, he is either mistaken or is just lying about the rate of glacier melt if you look up the correct studies on the subject. IE the glaciers are melting at half the rate Guzman claims so the problem is further off than he claims yet he never retracts his sky is falling claims. If the world warms the rains will come and with dams the water will be contained so the problem goes away. In any case all that ice is a product of the little ice age as it was hotter in 1000 AD than today when the worlds population was a lot less , a lot lot less.

  4. Thought you were going to also link this thought to the North Pole turning into a lake.

  5. First off the photo was not taken at 90 degrees (North Pole) but at 85 degrees north latitude moving away from the North Pole region and iteventually exiting through the Fram Strait.

    • omnologos Says:

      (isn’t anybody here concerned that silly videos like the “north pole lake” go viral as they’re falsely used as evidence of catastrophic climate change? just wondering …)

      • First off I corrected the post as being wrong (is that not right?). Second it is not unprecedented for it to have occurred at the North Pole (I know you love that word). Melt ponds, broken Open Ocean, melt lakes etc. have happen for years all over the arctic ice including NP, What is unprecedented, is the volume, area, and extent and is evidence for catastrophic climate change in the Arctic.

        You need to beef up your knowledge of sea ice. Start out with “The Arctic Climate System” by Mark Serreze, the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Who knows? you could learn something from a science book that would be unprecedented. 😉

        • omnologos Says:

          what are you blathering about? The video has gone viral, and it has been used to tell people the Arctic is warming catastrophically. None of them has been told that there is nothing special in the video, and that in truth “What is unprecedented, is the volume, area, and extent and is evidence for catastrophic climate change in the Arctic”.

          Doesn’t that concern you? Because if they have been told and believe A because of B, and B is patently false, if and when they discover that, they will stop believing in A, even if you could pontificate about A on the basis of C, D, E, F, G etc etc.

          But if you’re happy with that, I won’t disturb your inner peace. Time will 😉

  6. […] underlining Climate Change’s maturation as a potent political issue – a new ad in the Virginia Governmental race features GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s […]

  7. […] here as to who) Even if the poll is too optimistic (from my perspective), it is spot on in terms of the direction this issue is moving. Exhibit A: The President’s June address on climate, which you must know had to be […]

  8. mfellion Says:

    Why do you liberals including the writer of this article repeatedly and deliberately lie about the subject of climate change. The issue is not climate change it is whether man is warming the planet. Only somebody mentally ill will claim the climate is not changing, it has been changing for some 4.5 billion years. The last large change was the little ice age which started around 1200 AD reached it lowest point around 1625 and has been warming off and on for 400 plus or minus years. You could say it has been warming on average for 400 years every year being warmer than the last. The AGW crowd of which a lot of liberals are a part claims man is warming the planet, otherwise the climate would be static and unchanging which it has not for 4.5 billion years. A tiny problem exists for the AGW crowd, no science actually shows CO2 warmed or lack of it cooled the planet in the past back at least 800K years much less the present which has not warmed in 17 years just like it did not from 1940 to 1980 which you can look up for yourself by googling the NASA giss data graphs. The IPCC solves that tiny problem by ignoring it, They only use data from 1951 to 2010 in the latest model. Since the previous models did not work what makes the present model more likely to predict correctly? Another tiny problem for the AGW crowd which they ignore just like they ignore all data prior to 1951 is the medieval warm period. The consensus IPCC warming model for 2100 AD happens to be the same as the actual temperature in 1000 AD when CO2 is half today levels. CO2 has zero correlation with climate change past or present so the driver of climate change is something else namely per the science Solar gain changes and changes long term in earths tilt and orbit. Those of course require no money for the Al Gores of this world so lets tax Carbon.

  9. dumboldguy Says:

    Been busy today and have just had a chance to look at Crock. Lo and behold, one of our new deniers has returned with comments on a months old thread.

    FYI, mfellion, anyone who comes on Crock and rants about communists, Al Gore, and Nazis rather than talk about the science of climate change is regarded by the rest of us here as a flaming anal orifice with subnormal intelligence and personality problems to boot.

    The cherry-picked “science” you have mentioned is the same old denier horsepucky that has been debunked time and again in many places. Why don’t you go hang out on WUWT and some of the political sites like Personal Liberty Digest. You will find other willfully ignorant folks there who will be glad to join you in the circular firing squad of ignorance and shared stupidity about climate change. Spout your horsepucky to each other, pat each other on the back over how smart you all are, and nod in agreement like Beavis and Butthead bobblehead dolls. Leave us in peace.

    (PS Earth does NOT have a climate that has been changing for 4.5 billion years. Do you understand why that’s true?)

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