Two months ago, my report “Naming the Problem: What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight Against Global Warming” [PDF] was posted online (along with an important companion report, “The Too Polite Revolution” [PDF], by journalists Petra Bartosiewicz and Marissa Miley). These reports probed what happened with the big push for cap-and-trade legislation in 2009 and 2010, and mine used the results of months of research to place this episode within the larger political trends that have been playing out in U.S. politics in recent years.
As a scholar of U.S. politics, I am accustomed to analyzing social movements as well as efforts to enact big policy reforms, and I always look forward to learning as much from debates about my writings as from the original research. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the sudden and intense debate my report helped to kick off.
The whole report was accurately summarized in the first major news article on it, by Suzanne Goldenberg at The Guardian, but the editors assigned her article a headline and teaser that hit a sore spot: “Climate Change Inaction the Fault of Environmental Groups, Report Says: Academic Paper Largely Clears President Obama of Blame Over Failure to Pass Climate Legislation Through Congress.” No matter that my report pointed to Republican extremism as the problem that had to be “named,” faced, and effectively countered. No matter that it called for forward-looking strategies and hardly used the word “blame” at all (except in brief accounts of how various wings of environmentalism fingered each other for the cap-and-trade shortfall).
Almost instantly, Cap-and-Trader Joe Romm at the Center for American Progress called troops into battle, going after me for doing a 145-page “opinion piece” rather than a properly “refereed” research article (an odd accusation coming from a blogger). When comments at CAP's ThinkProgress blog deteriorated into tagging me as a plant by climate-change deniers, I left the Democratic Party’s “progressive” think tank to its own circular firing squad and focused on learning from discussions at my talks and from much more substantive debate at Grist and other media outlets.