by Judith Curry
Nisbet provides this background information on the study:
I wrote the Climate Shift report to inform the decision making of environmental leaders, philanthropists, scientists, scholars and others as they consider next steps in the effort to mobilize societal action on the undeniable, human causes of climate change. The report is the first independent, academic analysis to examine several longstanding questions that remain at the center of discussion over the cap and trade debate.
My hope is that the report encourages a substantive discussion of the questions addressed, the implications of the findings, as well as further study and analysis.
As I write in the report, following the failure of cap and trade, environmental groups are identifying a new policy agenda while also focusing heavily on the role of spending by opponents and on investing in communication efforts. As these plans move forward, a range of scholars and policy thinkers have argued for a deeper reconsideration of the problem and for a diversity of new policy approaches.
In order to inform planning and discussion, I spent the past five months gathering and analyzing data relevant to the following major dimensions that remain the subject of interest and much speculation. In no place in the report do I make recommendations about what policy path should be taken.
From the Introduction and Overview:
As a range of environmentalists, scientists, philanthropists and scholars consider next steps in the debate over climate change, in this report I examine several longstanding questions that remain at the center of discussion. Effective strategy requires clear vision. The goal of this report is to provide analysis and insight that informs decision making.
Assisted in my research by a team of American University graduate students, I examined:
• the financial resources and spending of environmental groups and their opponents;
Overall, in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, the major conservative think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations took in a total of $907 million in revenue, spent $787 mil- lion on all program-related activities, and spent an estimated $259 million specific to climate change and energy policy. In comparison, the national envi- ronmental groups took in $1.7 billion in revenue, spent $1.4 billion on program activities, and spent an estimated $394 million on climate change and energy-specific activities.
• the planning efforts and investment strategies of major foundations;
Leading the report [Design to Win: Philanthropy's Role in the Fight Against Global Warming] was the recommendation that “tempering climate change” required a strong cap and trade policy in the United States and the European Union, and a binding international agree- ment on greenhouse gas emissions. The report predicted that passage of cap and trade legislation would “prompt a sea change that washes over the entire global economy.” The report included little to no discussion of the role of government and philanthropy in directly sponsoring the creation of new energy technologies. The report is additionally notable for the absence of any meaningful discus- sion of social, political or cultural dimensions of the challenge.
• the patterns in news attention and media portrayals of climate change;
Specific to the portrayal of the reality and causes of climate change, across the two years at The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.com, approximately nine out of 10 news and opinion articles reflected the consensus view on climate change. At Politico during this period, at least seven out of 10 articles portrayed the consensus view. Only at The Wall Street Journal did this trend not hold up, yet even in this case, the difference in portrayal was confined largely to the opinion pages. Across the two-year period, at least eight out of 10 news articles at the paper reflected the consensus view, but at the opinion pages, less than half of articles asserted that climate change was real and that humans were a cause.
• the factors shaping the recent decline in public concern and belief in climate change;
Just as public opinion needs to be considered in the context of the economy and the message strategy of prominent political figures, belief in the reality and risks of climate change are also linked to the proposed policy solutions. Polling experts assert it is wrong to assume that questions asking about the causes and impacts of climate change are in fact measuring knowledge. Instead, answers to these questions are much more likely to be indirect opinions about cap and trade policy and an interna- tional agreement, explaining why even highly edu- cated Republicans appear in polling to doubt human caused climate change. Academic studies reach a similar conclusion. In these studies, perceptions of scientific consensus vary by an individual’s underly- ing ideological values and in relation to the inferred course of policy action.
• the factors influencing how scientists and environmentalists interpret and make sense of climate change politics.
As a result, in discussion of communication initiatives and political strategy, scientists and envi- ronmentalists tend to overlook how economic trends and their own actions might diminish public concern, and instead focus on presumed flaws in media cover- age or the activities of conservatives. Moreover, as organizations such as the AAAS train and encourage their members to engage in public outreach, most participants are likely to view politics very differently from the audiences with which they are trying to engage, a challenge that merits greater focus as part of these trainings.
From the Conclusion:
In the conclusion, I discuss the future of the envi- ronmental movement as one of two major coalitions that exist in American politics today—one motivated primarily by climate change and the other by energy insecurity. The “Green” network, as examined in this report, is composed of national environmental groups; allies among the Democratic Party and pro- gressive groups; politically active scientists and affili- ated organizations; and the philanthropists who have traditionally invested in their efforts. These groups continue to focus primarily on the urgent threat of climate change, the need for policies that regulate greenhouse gas emissions and conservatives and industry as the major obstacles to progress.
The “Innovation” network includes a coalition of left-leaning, centrist and right-leaning organizations joined by universities, groups such as the National Academies, energy scientists, technology entrepreneurs, business leaders and supporting foundations. The Innovation network’s portfolio of policies focuses on increasing research spending; improving science education; creating regional hubs for tech- nology development; reforming subsidies for fossil fuel industries; using defense spending and the mili- tary to catalyze wider changes in energy technology and use; and promoting such specific technologies as small-scale nuclear reactors, batteries, geothermal power, wind and solar power, carbon sequestration and biofuels. Instead of viewing conservatives and industry as obstacles to these goals, the innovation network tends to view them as potential partners.
Before the press embargo had lifted, Joe Romm hit back hard with a piece, and then a follow on piece as well. Romm’s criticism focuses on the financial analysis (i.e. who is spending more: the enviro groups or the libertarian think tanks).
Nisbet responds here to Romm’s criticisms.
Further discussions on this report are occurring at collide-a-scape.
JC’s comments: Nisbet has raised a host of very interesting and “inconvenient” issues for the climate change movement. Nisbet’s points generally make sense to me, but I don’t know how to evaluate the details of the financial analysis. Pondering the issues raised by Nisbet is important to foster innovation and new ideas for dealing with the climate change issue.