Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Strategy for Passing Climate Change Legislation

This blog will soon turn to some of the media coverage of science policy; in particular, the cap-and-trade bill because it is just so critical to the direction that energy science, research and development take in coming years - over the medium term, really.

Nate Silver of the election season fame just made a post adapting this image:

From this survey.  Silver calls for Democrats to "personalize" the debate in order to have a better shot a pushing legislation, and he is absolutely right.  As he points out, general polling on climate change indicates support for legislation to mitigate.  At the same time, in situations where economic growth is in conflict with emissions reductions, economic growth will almost always win because people never oppose economic growth (as Roger Pielke Jr., puts it: do you have a job and want a keep it?  do you not have a job but want a job at some point?  then you are a big fan of economic growth).  

In the context of expensive energy, and a flat demand for energy in the developed world (indeed, growing to the extent that immigration drives population growth in countries like America), it is unlikely that people will vote for climate legislation over economic productivity over time. 

How might Waxman, Markey, and the Democrats make the debate seem more personalized?  As is often the case, the political process is more comprehensive than many like to think, and is addressing this issue in subtle ways.  For example, Rick Boucher [D-VA] has proposed moderating amendments to the bill.  To coal state democrats, such a move may garner support, and make the bill seem like it is addressing the climate issue, while also not taxing the bottom of the pyramid - "you," "your family," and "your community."  While somewhat variable based on one's personal ethics, it can be generally argued that people care more about the bottom of the pyramid than the top of it; barring fringe deep ecologists, people (evidenced by their consumption behavior and voting behavior) do prioritize themselves and their families over distant, developing countries, and certainly plant species.  

What more migh the Democrats do?  It's a fine balance, making a cap-and-trade bill pass a majority's personal and informal cost-benefit analysis.  The pyramid at the top of this post, as Silver points out, isn't necessarily irrational; indeed, developing countries are likely to be most affected by climate change, and species are going extinct already, before the wealthy world is feeling the punch of climate change.  Nevertheless, what may be irrational is that people are discounting the future damages to their families and communities.  Framing the issue in terms of childrens' future is an effective tactic, but must still not appeal to excessive fear.

Sadly, in the absence of fear, discounting prevails and economic growth will remain hard pressed to see compromise in the name of climate change mitigation.

No comments:

Post a Comment