Vote time for the US climate bill

by | Jun 26, 2009

The Waxman-Markey Bill will go to the floor of the House today or tomorrow, so Obama and Pelosi are on a determined bid to round up the few remaining undecided Democrats (mainly from rust belt coal states). US environment NGOs have (apart from Greenpeace – quelle surprise) saddled up for a massive mobilisation, and staking every last cent of political capital on leveraging the outcome: the League of Conservation voters went so far as to write to House members saying,

“In light of the tremendous importance of this legislation, LCV has made the unprecedented decision that we will not endorse any member of the House of Representatives in 2010 election cycle who votes against final passage of this historic bill.”

If recent polling data is accurate, then the US public seems to be behind the case for tough action: a Washington Post-ABC poll conducted June 18-21, for instance, has nearly twice as many people approving of Obama’s handling of global warming as those disapproving at 54% vs 28% – a touch down on late April, when the ratio was 61% vs 23%, but still robust.

Better still, 75% of people thought the federal government should “regulate the release of greenhouse gases” vs 22% ‘should not’ – and wierdly, if the question is adapted to include “What if it raised the price of things you buy”, then the ratio widens to 80% vs 18%. That said, on cap-and-trade specifically, the numbers are far closer: 52% support vs 42% opposed, as compared to 59% vs 34% in late April.

But the really stand-out finding for me is about how American voters regard international cooperation on climate.  The question put to them on this was as follows:

Do you think the United States should take action on global warming only if other major industrial countries such as China and India agree to do equally effective things, that the United States should take action even if these other countries do less, or that the United States should not take action on this at all?

Answer: 18% think the US “should not take action at all” [i.e. irrespective of what other countries may or may not do]; 20% think the US should “take action only if other countries do”; and 59% think the US should “take action even if other countries do less”.  Last time that question was asked in this poll was July last year, when the same numbers were 13% / 18% / 68%.  So there’s weakening, sure – but considering that last year was before the credit crunch really kicked in, what’s interesting here is how well the numbers have held up.


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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