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The Case for Tackling the Climate Crisis

Rob Perks

Posted January 25, 2010 in Solving Global Warming

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Later this week President Obama will deliver his State of the Union speech and it's a safe bet that he will call for action to address the global climate crisis.  Congress has been dithering on passing legislation that will set targets for reducing greenhouse gas pollution that is warming the planet -- the so-called carbon cap.  Last summer, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill but legislative action has stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Although the fossil fuel industry and its well-compensated lobbyists continue their efforts to sow confusion and discord, the fact is that the overwhelming scientific consensus supports strong and urgent action to reduce global warming pollution in order to stave off the worst consequences of climate change. 

But let's entertain the senseless notion that the scientists are wrong.  If that were so, then it would still make sense to transition from our dangerous reliance on dirty energy to a clean energy economy.  Indeed, despite the unfortunate partisan sniping by politicians over this issue, most Americans favor action on climate policy.  Don't take my word for it.  Republican pollster Frank Luntz recently conducted an opinion poll that shows this to be true. 

Based on his findings, Luntz frames a common-sense and compelling argument, which I boil down thusly:

A climate bill done right means cleaner air.  We also reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which enhances our national security.  We get more innovation in our economy, which creates more jobs -- and more sustainable jobs.  We get all these benefits if the scientists are wrong.  If they're right -- and I believe they are -- then we get those things, plus we beging to solve what could be the most catastrophic environmental crisis that the world has ever faced.

In announcing his new research last week, Luntz emphasized that the American people are eager for Congress to act on climate legislation that would promote energy independence and a healthier environment.  According to Luntz, passing legislation that boosts national security and energy independence, promotes innovation and new technology, creates jobs, and reduces pollution as part of a declining cap on carbon emissions is smart politics for Republicans and Democrats alike.   

"Americans want their leaders to act on climate change – but not necessarily for the reasons you think," Luntz said.  "A clear majority of Americans believe climate change is happening.  This is true of McCain voters and Obama voters alike.  And even those that don’t still believe it is essential for America to pursue policies that promote energy independence and a cleaner, healthier environment."  

Some major take-aways from the national poll conducted by Luntz: 

Republicans and Democrats agree that national security is the top reason to enact comprehensive climate policy

  • Luntz noted that national security "crosses demographic lines, is embraced by opinion elites and doesn’t require a belief in climate change."
  • Pitted against economic and environmental arguments, national security was consistently the highest priority.
  • McCain voters in Luntz’s qualitative research strongly believe "the costs of our addiction to oil are too high in terms of lives, money, foreign policy and standing in the world."

Reducing pollution and holding companies that pollute “accountable” enjoys broad bipartisan support. 

  • Americans see climate legislation as more than just corporate social responsibility. 
  • When given a list of business and economic reasons to support the legislation, the top choice mirrored the public’s highest priority for Washington and Wall Street: accountability. 
  • This was chosen as the top reason for supporting the policy among both Obama and McCain partisans – a rare example of bi-partisan public consensus.       

Luntz concluded: 

"Americans want clean, safe, healthy, secure energy.  That’s why Republicans and Democrats alike strongly support action to address climate change.  Sure, Republicans are more concerned about the national security component and Democrats the health component, but support for action right now spans all partisan and ideological lines." 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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