By Brett Youstey
Climate change should not be a partisan issue. Yale Climate Opinion Maps show that as of 2016, 69 percent of americans believe in global warming. While a third of americans are still in denial, the public disagreement on climate change has shifted from its existence to weighing climate policy.
Many see climate change as a threat, but don’t believe the benefits of climate initiatives outweigh the economic harms. If climate activists focused on this group of policy critics, instead of deniers, there would be much more progress towards combating climate change.
Whether Trump means it or not, his iconic “It’s cold outside” tweets stagnate climate activism. They prevent change by further polarizing the issue as activists respond by focusing on a stubborn group of deniers. As a result, activists build a stereotype of who a dissenter should be.
Being a policy critic myself, I am surprised how quickly my discussions with those who support climate initiatives devolve. For example, if I don’t support carbon taxes, then I am a seen as a denier or someone who doesn’t care about the environment, regardless of the possibility that I simply don’t think the policy would be effective. These discussions are as if the other person was arguing with a Trumpian caricature sitting behind me. Policy critics are not seen as people who share a common goal, but as deniers.
Many activists are not engaging the group that accepts climate change, but is skeptical of climate policy. Activists’ lack of engagement with this group is to their own detriment.
The same Yale Climate Opinion Maps show that the majority of americans support research into renewable energies, regulation of emissions and limits for fossil fuel companies. Support for climate initiatives already exist. They just need to be sold to skeptics in the public.
With a lack of discussion weighing climate policy, activism has developed an orthodoxy. The dominant narrative among climate activists is a dystopian future that necessitates taking the shortest path possible to cutting emissions.
During the Obama administration, climate activists took the shortest path. They supported sweeping regulations and entered into the Paris Climate Agreement with little attempt to sell the changes to policy critics; there was no need.
Now that Trump is in office, his supporters, a large number of whom accept climate change, have no problem with withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. The Obama era climate policies were not sold to them. Climate activists taking the short path of partisanship resulted in nearly a decade of work being undone in months.
Limiting activism to short bursts of partisan legislation does not provide the long term policies needed to reduce emissions. Partisanship also does not reflect the reality of public opinion on climate change. The majority of americans, even substantial number of conservatives, are willing to support a variety of climate initiatives.
How can climate activists give themselves a bipartisan appeal? Ignore the deniers and focus on those who see climate change as a legitimate threat to the environment. Constructive engagement will minimize the stereotypes that prevent policy critics from helping.
Climate activists also need to have a more open view to the various ways to combat climate change. We can fight climate change by expanding drilling and using the financial benefits to invest in research. We can fight climate change by cutting regulations and subsidizing renewable energy.
Activists will have more political options to enact change, if they lose their orthodoxy. Losing partisanship means creating a point of entry for conservatives. Climate activists have the best opportunity to create a stable movement, when they appeal to americans as a whole.