Our Politics and Our Assumptions Are Not Helping Us
Bob and Suzannah Ciernia
Six Republican members of Congress addressed a Conservative Climate Conference this past March and told attendees that their voices are an important part of the discussions of climate change. Collectively, the speakers expressed the opinion that climate change is a significant threat to the planet and encouraged the audience, made up of conservative climate activists from Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), to continue to speak up (https://bit.ly/CCLConservativeConference).
Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) noted, “When I came to Congress, I did not have my climate feet underneath me. And the CCL in Utah reached out to me … there was no judgment, there was no criticism, there was only encouragement and explanation and understanding. So let me just say that one of the reasons I’m here, I do what I do, is because of my relationship with CCL Utah. I know my fellow conservatives, I know my fellow Republicans, care deeply about this earth, but they’re being painted and branded as if they don’t care, as if they somehow deny the science. There are some of them in that category, but not the vast majority.”
And for those who think that calling or emailing their representative about climate change is pointless, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) had this to say, “I ask for this report every day — who’s calling? What are they calling about? What are the emails? […] Knowing what people care about and where they stand on an issue is also very important. Those phone calls, those emails, those letters, they do make a real difference. So that advocacy work is important.”
There’s a good reason Republicans are talking more about climate change. Recent results from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication clearly show that attitudes towards climate change are shifting, as demonstrated in this excerpt from their September 2021 study: “Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not happening by a ratio of more than 6 to 1 (76%* versus 12%). Those who are “very” or “extremely” sure global warming is happening outnumber those who are “very” or “extremely” sure it is not by about 8 to 1 (57%* versus 7%). The full report can be found here at https://bit.ly/YaleProgramonClimateChangeCommunication.
Moreover, in another report from the same organization, surveys found there are segments of the population that are often ignored or overlooked which make up the highest proportion of concerned Americans.
“We find that Hispanics/Latinos (69%) and African Americans (57%) are more likely to be Alarmed or Concerned about global warming than are Whites (49%). In contrast, Whites are more likely to be Doubtful or Dismissive (27%) than are Hispanics/Latinos (11%) or African Americans (12%)(https://bit.ly/YaleProgram_RaceandClimateChange).”
In other words, there are a lot of people concerned about climate change that may not be the first to come to mind when one hears the term ‘environmentalist’. And this misconception is often perpetuated by the very folks who are most concerned about climate change! The voices of conservatives and BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) communities are often not heard because too often we’ve made the assumption they’re not interested or not on “our side.” To dismiss potential allies before determining their actual opinions is not a winning strategy.
CCL recognizes that without welcoming everyone to the table and building respectful relationships – no matter where the other person is on the political spectrum – we will never succeed in passing strong, durable climate legislation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NpzP2HcRPI.
It’s not just our politics where we get it wrong. https://on.natgeo.com/3xjPomlWe make other assumptions that get in the way of addressing climate change. In a recent National Geographic article https://on.natgeo.com/3xjPoml), the author notes that many of us are pinning our hopes on carbon sequestration as a means of reducing carbon in the atmosphere. Whether it is individuals offsetting their personal air travel, or large corporations looking to zero out their carbon footprint, we don’t always look outside our comfort zone. Craig Welch asks some basic questions: What happens when the forests we are counting on to sequester carbon burn down, releasing their carbon instead of securing it? And what happens when insect infestations – whether native or invasive, whether accelerated by climate change or not – destroy a particular species that plays a big part of an offset program? Here is an excerpt from the article that should bring many of us up short.
“[CarbonPlan] estimated that in the first 10 years of the program, fire loss on offsets was already 5.7 to 6.8 million metric tons. That represents 95 percent or more of all the fire-related contributions to the buffer pool.
“That means we messed up our calculations so badly that in less than 10 years we’ve blown through 100 years of credits,” said Danny Cullenward, policy director for CarbonPlan.
“His team took a different approach when assessing disease risk. Phytophthora ramorum, the invasive pathogen that causes sudden oak death, already has killed more than 40 million trees in California and Oregon. It disproportionately kills tanoak, a tree native to the coast. CarbonPlan found that 20 offset projects hold roughly 14 million tons of CO2 in tanoak—and that anywhere from 4.7 to 9 million tons of that could be lost to Phytophthora in this century. That would be 82 to 159 percent of the buffer pool earmarked to cover all forest diseases and insect outbreaks, lost to a single pathogen and a single tree species.”
The idea of using carbon offsets via sequestration in tree planting and forest preservation is a wonderful idea, but it is not a reliable method of reducing atmospheric carbon. What will work? Cutting our use of fossil fuels. What is the surest way to cut our use of fossil fuels? Put a price on them.
A carbon tax on the fossil fuel industry in which all revenue generated is returned to consumers, will get to the source of our emissions problem without harming low- and middle-income families. Economists of all political persuasions tell us that putting a price on carbon is the fastest way to drop CO2 levels. A well-designed price on carbon, with a monthly cashback check going to each household, will dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and will protect the economically disadvantaged.
We can’t win this fight with most people sitting on the sidelines. We need everyone looking to cut their emissions: conservatives, progressives, rich, poor, BIPOC, white. Further, we need a systemic approach to the problem, not one that is vulnerable to the very problem it seeks to address.
A Band-Aid won’t do when a stitch is called for https://energyinnovationact.org.
Bob and Suzannah Ciernia are co-leaders of the Vermont Citizens’ Climate Lobby At-Large Chapter.