Wednesday, March 19, 2014

New Gallup Poll on Climate Change Shows Media and Political Malpractice

On Monday, Gallup came out with a new poll on public perceptions of climate change.
Almost half (49%) of Democrats said that the seriousness of climate change was "generally underestimated" in most news coverage. 32% thought reporting was "generally correct" about the seriousness of climate change, and a small-but-still-too-large 18% thought the seriousness of climate change was "generally exaggerated."

Over two-thirds (68%) of Republicans said coverage "generally exaggerated" the seriousness of climate change.  Almost half (45%) of Independents thought so, too, with roughly one-third (32%) saying coverage "generally underestimated" the threat and about one-fifth (21%) thinking the coverage was "generally correct" in its reporting on the seriousness.

Overall, this produced the following general results:
42%: "generally exaggerated"
33%: "generally underestimated"
23%: "generally correct"

On a positive note, less than half of those surveyed thought the seriousness of climate change was exaggerated in media coverage. On another note, we're doomed.

What fascinated me, though, was the chart showing perception over time. Look at how the percentage of people who said that media coverage exaggerated the seriousness of climate change rose after 2008.

2010 marked the peak of the "generally exaggerated line" and the trough of the "generally underestimated line." 2006 was the reverse.

This tracks two phenomena: one media-related and one political.

First, let's look at the media. As you can see below, the peak of the "generally exaggerated" line matches with the nadir of media coverage on climate change, and the peak of the "generally underestimated" line follows the peak of media coverage.

Here's a chart of the climate change coverage of the top 5 newspapers.

Here's one of climate coverage on the nightly news broadcasts:

And this chart helps bring the former closer to the present:

Now, let's look at the political dynamic. I'll show this through the analysis of the Republican Party platform. Last year, I analyzed how the Republican Party addressed climate change in their party platforms from 1992 (first appearance) to 2012. Below, I'm excerpting the analysis of 2008 and 2012:

Between the 2004 and 2008 elections, the political landscape regarding climate changed.  Major newspapers published significantly more stories on climate change, partly fueled by the release of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (2006).  A larger share of the public began to believe (correctly) that global warming had already begun.

The 2008 Republican platform addresses climate change both more extensively and more seriously than any previous platform for the party.

The section on infrastructure emphasized the inclusion of climate change when reviewing permits:
Restoring Our Infrastructure ...At the same time, we are committed to minimizing transportation's impact on climate change, our local environments, and the nation's energy use. Careful reforms of environmental reviews and the permitting process should speed projects to completion.
Although in the context of “security” and “energy independence,” rather than climate change, the energy section discussed the importance of renewables:
Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Hydropower
Alternate power sources must enter the mainstream. The technology behind solar energy has improved significantly in recent years, and the commercial development of wind power promises major benefits both in costs and in environmental protection. Republicans support these and other alternative energy sources, including geothermal and hydropower, and anticipate technological developments that will increase their economic viability. We therefore advocate a long-term energy tax credit equally applicable to all renewable power sources.
Republicans support measures to modernize the nation's electricity grid to provide American consumers and businesses with more affordable, reliable power. We will work to unleash innovation so entrepreneurs can develop technologies for a more advanced and robust United States transmission system that meets our growing energy demands.
It also stressed the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels through energy efficiency and fuel-efficient vehicles:
Reducing Demand for Fossil Fuels
While we grow our supplies, we must also reduce our demand — not by changing our lifestyles but by putting the free market to work and taking advantage of technological breakthroughs.
Increase Conservation through Greater Efficiency
Conservation does not mean deprivation; it means efficiency and achieving more with less. Most Americans today endeavor to conserve fossil fuels, whether in their cars or in their home heating, but we can do better. We can construct better and smarter buildings, use smarter thermostats and transmission grids, increase recycling, and make energy-efficient consumer purchases. Wireless communications, for example, can increase telecommuting options and cut back on business travel. The Republican goal is to ensure that Americans have more conservation options that will enable them to make the best choices for their families.
New Technologies for Cars and Other Vehicles
We must continue to develop alternative fuels, such as biofuels, especially cellulosic ethanol, and hasten their technological advances to next-generation production. As America develops energy technology for the 21st century, policy makers must consider the burden that rising food prices and energy costs create for the poor and developing nations around the world. Because alternative fuels are useless if vehicles cannot use them, we must move quickly to flexible fuel vehicles; we cannot expect necessary investments in alternative fuels if this flexibility does not become standard. We must also produce more vehicles that operate on electricity and natural gas, both to reduce demand for oil and to cut CO2 emissions.
Given that fully 97 percent of our current transportation vehicles rely on oil, we will aggressively support technological advances to reduce our petroleum dependence. For example, lightweight composites could halve the weight and double the gas mileage of cars and trucks, and together with flex-fuel and electric vehicles, could usher in a renaissance in the American auto industry.
Of course, the energy section also touted the pipe dream of “clean coal” and, as the 2004 platform did, used the low emissions of nuclear power as a selling point.  The mantra of "energy independence" also means more natural gas and more oil drilling--to both parties, unfortunately. However, most important for our discussion is the fact that the platform had a multi-part section devoted to climate change.  The solutions in the section represent the approach of a more moderate wing of a conservative party.  In other words, it acknowledges the existence of a problem and presents market-oriented solutions (preferring markets to government regulation and carrots over sticks) that try to preserve as much of the status quo as possible while still addressing the problem.
Environmental Protection By increasing our American energy supply and decreasing the long term demand for oil, we will be well positioned to address the challenge of climate change and continue our longstanding responsibility for stewardship over the environment.
Addressing Climate Change Responsibly
The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. While the scope and long-term consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment. Those steps, if consistent with our global competitiveness will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy. Any policies should be global in nature, based on sound science and technology, and should not harm the economy.
What’s stunning in the language above is the acknowledgement that capitalism has caused environmental problems—a marked contrast to the language of the party just several years later.  There is also an argument from “common sense,” i.e. that there is an imperative to do this that exists outside of the scientific consensus.  There is still skepticism (“While the scope and long-term consequences of this are the subject of ongoing research), but tempered by a belief that such skepticism does not deny the case for action.
The Solution: Technology and the Market As part of a global climate change strategy, Republicans support technology-driven, market-based solutions that will decrease emissions, reduce excess greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, increase energy efficiency, mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs, and maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy.
To reduce emissions in the short run, we will rely upon the power of new technologies, as discussed above, especially zero-emission energy sources such as nuclear and other alternate power sources. But innovation must not be hamstrung by Washington bickering, regulatory briar patches, or obstructionist lawsuits. Empowering Washington will only lead to unintended consequences and unimagined economic and environmental pain; instead, we must unleash the power of scientific know-how and competitive markets.
The language here alludes to the Cimate Stewardship Acts, the series of cap-and-trade bills proposed by John McCain and Joe Lieberman in 2003, 2005, and 2007.  Cap-and-trade, remember, was a conservative-friendly, market-oriented alternative to a “command-and-control” approach to address the crisis of acid rain.  (Just like the mandate and insurance exchanges were the conservative, market-friendly alternative to single payer---but I digress.) The language against “Washington bickering” is rather clich├ęd, and I’m not quite sure what “ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy” is supposed to mean.
International Cooperation Because the issue of climate change is global, it must become a truly global concern as well. All developed and developing economies, particularly India and China, can make significant contributions in dealing with the matter. It would be unrealistic and counterproductive to expect the U.S. to carry burdens which are more appropriately shared by all.
The party acknowledges the need for global action, but with the long-standing nationalist-populist “The U.S. isn’t the only one to blame!” to appease the base and deflect the blame.
Using Cash Rewards to Encourage Innovation
Because Republicans believe that solutions to the risk of global climate change will be found in the ingenuity of the American people, we propose a Climate Prize for scientists who solve the challenges of climate change. Honoraria of many millions of dollars would be a small price for technological developments that eliminate our need for gas-powered cars or abate atmospheric carbon.
As I noted earlier, the platform position shows a preference for carrots rather than sticks and a strong techno-optimism.
Doing No Harm Republicans caution against the doomsday climate change scenarios peddled by the aficionados of centralized command-and-control government. We can — and should — address the risk of climate change based on sound science without succumbing to the no-growth radicalism that treats climate questions as dogma rather than as situations to be managed responsibly.

A robust economy will be essential to dealing with the risk of climate change, and we will insist on reasonable policies that do not force Americans to sacrifice their way of life or trim their hopes and dreams for their children. This perspective serves not only the people of the United States but also the world's poorest peoples, who would suffer terribly if climate change is severe — just as they would if the world economy itself were to be crippled. We must not allow either outcome.
The discussion ends with the long-standing economy vs. environment frame and what seems to be an attack on the Green Party. The Greens (and, although a registered Democrat, I'd include myself in this contingent) have advocated for a post-growth economy focusing more on redistribution than on growth in the developed world and sustainable development through the adoption of human-scale, decentralized, and appropriate technologies in the developing world. This passage is arguing with a straw man, peddling the “Enviros view climate change as a religion!” nonsense, stemming from the culture war, that you see every now and again. 
However, overall, this marks the high point for the Republican platform’s relationship to climate change.


The 2008 to 2012 change is quite stunning.  They go from having the most extensive discussion of climate change to date (for the party) in 2008 to near omission. From 1992 to 2004, the Republican platform at least gave lip service to the need to commit to reducing GHG emissions and to have global action on climate change.  In 2012, climate change was only invoked to mock Obama's national security strategy.
A Failed National Security Strategy ....Finally, the strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates "climate change" to the level of a "severe threat" equivalent to foreign aggression. The word "climate," in fact, appears in the current President's strategy more often than Al Qaeda, nuclear proliferation, radical Islam, or weapons of mass destruction.
--- Public opinion is shaped immensely by partisan cues. When the Republican Party decided that it would not give even lip service to climate change (let alone consider offering credible policy solutions), Republican voters responded accordingly. This is not something that will change by mere "framing" from progressives and environmentalists. Moral and conceptual framing helps make ideas stick, but partisan cues make people receptive to them in the first place.

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