How Democrats Talk About Policy Proposals Can Make a Difference

WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., appears poised to lay the cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, potentially leaving Biden with little to offer the world when he travels to the global climate talks in Scotland on next month.

This is not surprising from Manchin, who ran for re-election in 2010 with a TV commercial in which he literally filmed his party’s last major legislative attempt to control greenhouse gas emissions. .

But that doesn’t mean Manchin and his coal-rich mountain state don’t like a lot of provisions that climate activists are pushing, like jobs, wind and solar programs – if only they would stop calling them “measures”. climate change “.

“I just wish the Senate would focus more on the real impacts of these policies. When you put it all together, you lose the majority of the people you need to get things done,” said Benji Backer, founder of the American Conservation Coalition in 2017 for young conservatives and libertarians who care about climate change but feel alienated by the mainstream environmentalist movement. “I’m a climate change activist, and I talk about climate change all the time, but you have to meet people where they are.”

It can be difficult to get Democrats to abandon “climate” as a talking point, even if it would rally their more moderate members.

The left wing of the Democratic Party has spent years telling its constituents that the conditions are dire and that something monumental must be done immediately. Coming back to voters seemingly empty-handed after promising to come up with substantial ‘climate’ legislation could create its own political problems.

Research has shown that talking about “climate change” is an effective way to engage liberal voters on “extreme weather”, even if it has negative effects on others.

The climate movement is starting to take a step back from its rhetorical approach, which has assumed for years that any real action has to start by convincing people of the science of catastrophic climate change and the urgent need to tackle it before it does. enter the specific solutions.

But many wonder if this approach is retrograde. Some activists have started to argue that a greater proportion of Americans support climate change policies if you talk less about “climate change” – because the issue has become so polarized – and more of it. specific impact on employment, the economy and the environment.

A kayaker descends Interstate 676 in Philadelphia after flooding from Hurricane Ida on September 2.Branden Eastwood / AFP via Getty Images

Backer highlighted Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a villain just behind former President Donald Trump in the minds of many liberals, who proposed landmark legislation this year to help the flood-prone state prepare. to rising sea level.

DeSantis hardly ever mentions climate change, but he often talks about “sea level rise” and “intensified storms” and says “resilience” is “a top priority for my administration”.

“It all pushes towards a pro-climate future, but he doesn’t use the right words, so people are chasing him,” Backer said. “And the people who use the right words don’t do anything, and they’re applauded.”

Representative John Curtis, a Republican who represents a deeply conservative part of rural Utah, is the leader of the new conservative climate caucus, which has 72 members. Instead of climate change, he talks about air quality, forest fires and the impact of the shrinking snowpack of warmer winters on ski resorts in his district.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks about jobs and clean energy resilience in Texas, which produces more wind power than any other state and is on track to catch up with California in solar power at large scale over the next few years.

Nationalism can also be a factor of unity. In a hopelessly divided Congress, the two sides came together this year to overwhelmingly pass a bill to counter China that included investments in clean energy and electric vehicles, but was not touted as a climate measurement.

“When we talk about clean energy, with a focus on clean jobs here in America, the effects of reduced pollution and lower electricity bills are effective ways to convince independent voters and even Republicans, ”said Sean McElwee, founder of the liberal Data think tank. for progress, which is conducting extensive polls.

The group’s poll found support for Biden’s clean energy and climate legislation increases when voters receive more information on details like infrastructure investments, job creation and downsizing of pollution.

It’s also a message Biden has at times emphasized, such as his statement in his joint speech to Congress this year: “When I think of climate change, I think of jobs.”

Sabine Marx, research director for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, described the approach as “leading to” climate change, rather than “leading with” climate change.

“If I know there are steps I can take towards concrete solutions, then I’m much more likely to accept that there is a problem,” she told State of the Planet, a publication of the Columbia Climate School.

According to Yale’s Climate Change Communication Program, 60% of registered voters say global warming should be a high or very high priority for Washington, a strong majority that so far have not been big enough to force action.

But when Yale researchers asked questions about specific policies regardless of their climate impacts, support was much higher. For example, 86% supported providing tax incentives to make buildings more efficient, 81% supported increased funding for renewable energy research, and 70% supported the shift of the US economy to fossil fuels. to 100% clean energy by 2050.

In West Virginia of Manchin, polls have found that less than half of voters believe climate change is primarily human-caused and only about a third say reducing carbon emissions is an important part of the process. Biden’s infrastructure bill.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean West Virginia is hostile to clean energy. The state owns several large wind farms and is building more, putting it in the middle of the pack nationally and above blue states like Massachusetts, which has faced intense local opposition to exploit its vast offshore wind energy potential.

The top four wind power producing states, according to federal data, all voted overwhelmingly for Trump: Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas.

“We don’t want to forget about the coal and natural gas industries, but we want to welcome the alternatives,” said West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, a Democrat-turned-Republican who scoffed at the idea that change climate would have apocalyptic impacts. , said at the inauguration of a wind farm in January.

It may be too late to persuade Manchin to change his mind and save Biden’s program.

But Backer said a messaging reset could help turn the tide for voters in places like West Virginia who are alienated by cultural stereotypes about the type of Americans who support climate action.

Climate activists “measure success not by political results but by things that are seen as victories so that we can take it back and campaign,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about what sounds good. It should be about what feels good.”

About Therese Williams

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