How should the presidential candidates convey the issue of climate change to the public?
We’ve seen in Part I that the political climate is changing. How should presidential candidates talk about climate in the 2008 campaign?
My advice to the candidates is to love the global warming deniers and delayers to death and to handle the economic issue head-on. Invite them into constructive discussion. Elevate the dialogue. Emphasize without stopping or deviation that climate change is not a partisan issue, and it should not be a political issue. Talk about the massive new global markets awaiting innovative American technologies, about climate change as the next great challenge for the nation’s genius, about how tackling climate change is our path to security and prosperity in the 21st century. It happens to be the truth.
Follow Barack Obama’s example of truth-telling. He had the guts earlier this year to tell the Detroit Economic Club that we need to raise CAFE standards. He won praise from Time columnist Joe Klein this week for refusing to pander to voters.
Klein spent a day with Obama in Iowa and watched him handle a question about global warming. Obama talked about the need for a cap-and-trade regime to reduce carbon emissions, then said: “One of the themes of this campaign is to tell voters what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear … So I’ve got to tell you there will be a cost to this — and the utility companies will pass it along to consumers. You can expect a spike in electricity prices.” Then he added the critical message: new technologies will eventually bring prices back down.
Obama also could have said this:
We are able and obligated to help those who will have the hardest time adjusting to climate change and to climate policy. We will use revenues from carbon trading to ensure equity and social justice in the transition to a new economy. Millions of new jobs — from entry level to high-tech — will be created to make that transition happen. We will improve energy efficiency economy-wide to insulate consumers from the downside of carbon pricing. And besides, the least expensive, least disruptive thing we can do is to act now. If we don’t, people will suffer, communities will suffer, businesses will suffer, the economy will suffer, our children will suffer and solutions will become more and more expensive. We can solve this problem. It won’t be easy, but we can do it and we will.
As developments unfold, the candidates must continue building a public mandate for bold leadership at every level — from mayors and governors to the Congress and White House, and from consumers to corporate CEOs. They should help the voters connect the dots. We need not debate the nuances of climate science or rely on polar bears in the Arctic to be the endangered mascots of global warming. The evidence is showing up all around us here at home. The scientists won’t say it, but the records being set year after year for wild fires, drought, heat, and floods, and the migrating wildlife and delayed rainfall, are the growing consequences of climate change.
The candidates should help the public connect the dots, too, on the other key issues of the campaign. Iraq and health care will remain dominant voter concerns in this election cycle, but they should not eclipse global warming. They are linked. Oil is at the root of our misadventures in the Middle East, and it is at the root of global warming. And climate change is a critical public health issue, from heat waves and natural disasters to expanding disease vectors. Unabated, it will break the back of an already strained health-care system.
Global warming is as complicated and crucial an issue as the world has yet faced. It will test our character and determine our future. That makes this the most important and interesting presidential election ever. Gore predicted as much. As usual, he’s probably right.