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Environment

Climate Policy: Hit Reset or Start Over?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJune 9, 2010 10:37 PM

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To understand why the new global warming survey by Stanford's Jon Krosnick is such a mixed bag for climate advocates, just read Kevin Drum's despairing reaction to it. But I'm getting ahead of myself. As Krosnick lays out convincingly in this meaty NYT op-ed:

huge majorities of Americans still believe the earth has been gradually warming as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it.

So far, so good, right? Read on (emphasis added):

Fully 86 percent of our respondents said they wanted the federal government to limit the amount of air pollution that businesses emit, and 76 percent favored government limiting business's emissions of greenhouse gases in particular. Not a majority of 55 or 60 percent "” but 76 percent. Large majorities opposed taxes on electricity (78 percent) and gasoline (72 percent) to reduce consumption. But 84 percent favored the federal government offering tax breaks to encourage utilities to make more electricity from water, wind and solar power. And huge majorities favored government requiring, or offering tax breaks to encourage, each of the following: manufacturing cars that use less gasoline (81 percent); manufacturing appliances that use less electricity (80 percent); and building homes and office buildings that require less energy to heat and cool (80 percent).

Now do you see why Drum is pounding his head against the wall? If not, let him explain (emphasis added):

So there you have it: the American public believes in global warming and wants the government to do something about it. However, the American public doesn't want to do anything "” carbon taxes or cap-and-trade "” that might actually work. But they do want to open the federal goody bag and dole out subsidies and tax breaks to everyone under the sun, presumably because these all sound like pleasant things to do and they're under the impression that they're all "free." Whether they work or not isn't really on their radar.

Whether they work or not. I submit that this crucial question (which should include carbon tax and cap & trade) hasn't been much on the radar of bloggers like Drum or Matthew Yglesias, who takes issue with Drum's dire assessment. The problem with Yeglesias's analysis of the Krosnick poll is that he's blaming conservatives for making the American public dumb and resistant on the issue of taxes. Whether that's true or not isn't important right now. What's important is that Americans have no interest whatsoever in cutting back their consumption or taking money out of their wallets to help arrest climate change. That should be the takeaway message from Krosnick's survey. So these latest polling results, combined with Senator Lindsey Graham's latest pirouette, should serve as a loud wake-up call to climate advocates. But the early indications are that denial has set in. For example, on the import of Graham's turnabout, David Roberts at Grist seems willfully oblivious:

So the climate bill's already slim chances are now considerably slimmer. But the basic calculus hasn't changed: If Obama goes all-out after a bill, it could happen. If he doesn't, it can't.

Really? I bet Obama thinks the calculus has changed considerably. So are we ready to move on yet and take up Drum's fundamental question (which has to include all policy levers): whether what's being proposed will work or not? Are we ready to listen to outside-the-beltway perspectives, some of which favor decoupling climate change from energy policy?

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