Last Thursday saw the release of a new Pew survey on public attitudes toward climate that revealed some hard news: only 57% of respondents think that there is solid evidence that the Earth is getting warmer (vs. 71% in April 2008). Robert Perkowitz, President of ecoAmerica, discusses this trend, how organizations like 350.org are challenging that trend, and why other organizations and companies need to pick up the pace.
"We saw what happened.
Everybody walked away once it was done, and there was no real progress.
We need to pick up the pace."
Bill McKibben, October 24,
Last week, on Saturday, October 24, at 3:50pm, 350.org
staged their fantastic “International Day of Climate Action.” This was preceded on Thursday, October
22, by the release of yet another Pew national poll on climate attitudes in
America, titled in their release “Fewer Americans See Solid Evidence of Global
Warming.” Considered together, they present a
Bill McKibben and his intrepid 350.org team have good reason
to be proud of the work they have done with the IDCA and their prior work with
the “Step it Up” campaign. Beyond
the quantity, variety, creativity and even the beauty of the many actions they
instigated around the earth, they appear to be accomplishing something. While on the whole the percentage of
Americans saying that “global warming is a serious problem” declined by 9pts,
from 44% to only 33%, one and only one demographic group, younger Americans 18
to 29 years old, reported an increase in concern. If you scan the thousands of pictures at www.350.org you notice that, overwhelmingly, the
participants in the actions are in this age group.
As a relevant aside here, it is interesting to note that in
the thousands of pictures from the “International Day of Climate Action,” the
largest group appears to be those standing on the stairs at the Opera House in
Sydney, Australia. They are, per
capita, among the biggest carbon emitters on the planet. They are also increasingly realizing
that their country and continent is a harbinger for the impacts of climate
Meanwhile, over the next 45 days, the U.S. Senate in America
and delegations representing all the world’s national governments at COP15 in Copenhagen will both be considering action on climate change. Climate solutions advocates, including
most governments and NGOs, have been working for years on these opportunities. As of now, it looks like they will be
disappointed. If there is action,
it is likely to be what is framed now as a “first step,” toward later
legislation and agreements that would more effectively address climate change.
There is concern that less effective agreements in these two
venues, because they will be supported by influential organizations that oppose
climate solutions and because they relieve the pressure for effective action,
will end up hindering rather than helping solve climate change.
Last week’s Pew poll on climate should come as no surprise. Every January, Pew releases their
annual poll on American public policy priorities while in April the Gallup
Organization releases findings from their annual Earth Day poll on attitudes toward
the environment. These are the two
best sources we have for longitudinal trends on American concerns about the
environment and climate, and they both have been reporting negative progress in
building public support for climate solutions.
So, we have the technology to solve for climate change, and
in spite of what carbon emitters and their allies say, doing so will be
economically, socially and morally profitable. The necessary national and international public policy
frameworks to implement those profitable solutions are also well known. And for many years leading American
climate solutions advocates have been working to build the necessary support
for those public policy frameworks.
Why the lack of success?
The conservation laws of the early 20th century
and the anti-pollution laws of the mid-20th century were both
supported by waves of mainstream public support. The elitist strategies, alarmist messages and levels
of abstraction that appeal to sophisticated Americans don’t build this type of
public support. It is increasingly
evident that “activating the base” isn’t enough to move mainstream voters and
thereby significantly sway American politicians.
As our prospects grow direr, climate solutions advocates
need to take a step back and question their strategies and tactics. We need to follow the lead of McKibben
and 350.org. As he says, “We
need to pick up the pace.” Engaging
mainstream Americans in climate solutions needs to be made our top priority.
By Bob Perkowitz