Remember back in 2006 and 2007 when it looked as though the US was about to get really serious on climate policy? You know, when not only Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and Barack Obama but even John McCain supported legislation on cap and trade? Well, Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol has just published a 140 page report (pdf) about what happened next and where it all went wrong, commissioned by the Rockefeller Family Fund. It’s very very good. David Roberts at Grist has the best summary I’ve seen if you’re too busy or lazy to read the whole thing: here are the key messages that he picks out from the report:
Enviros vastly overstated Obama’s agency throughout the process and his responsibility for the outcome. Skocpol exaggerates enviro cluelessness a bit here — I doubt all that many really think they would have won if Obama had just made a few more speeches — but she’s definitely on to something. An amazing amount of the commentary around the bill was devoted to criticizing Obama, or saying what Obama should do, or questioning Obama’s heart. Enviros were constantly “calling on” Obama to say or do this thing or the other. But Obama was not at the center of the action. The dynamics that mattered took place in Congress. Obama did not exactly distinguish himself as a climate champion, but he was a sideshow — he could not have changed the outcome.
On public opinion, cap-and-trade supporters were too concerned with breadth and too little concerned with intensity. An enormous amount of time and money went into national polls and national advertising. National polls tell enviros what they want to hear: In the abstract, majorities always support clean air and clean energy. Enviros mistook these poll results for constituencies. But poll results do not attend town halls or write members of Congress or exhort their fellow citizens through ideological media. Constituencies do that.
Failure to fight back in the summer of 2009 was a fateful mistake. Just after the Waxman-Markey bill passed the House, summer arrived, legislators went home, and enviros cracked a beer and put their feet up. Meanwhile, a well-funded, well-organized Tea Party invaded town halls, dominated talk radio and Fox News, and generally scared the bejesus out of Republican legislators. They bashed on “cap-and-tax” for months, with very little pushback. By the time the Senate returned to consider the bill, members had learned their lesson.
Most of all:
Enviros were slow to perceive and understand the accelerating radicalization of the Republican Party. The USCAP strategy was based on securing the support — or at least defusing the opposition — of key business constituencies. The presumption was that the GOP is the party of business and would follow the lead of key corporate constituents. It was further based on securing the support of key “maverick” Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The presumption there was that their support would provide cover for other moderate Republicans to cross the line. Both presumptions were based on an outdated model of the Republican Party.
A New Year present for data geeks. In case any of you are bored with twitter and facebook as ways of wasting your time, have a look at this. ‘Worldometers’ offers real time data on all kinds of things – population, government spending, emails sent, bicycles produced, carbon emitted…based on data from UN, OECD etc. Of course it’s all guesswork and extrapolation, like most statistics, but very interesting and quite astounding to see some of the counters whizzing round (I’m posting this at 12.55 and there have already been more than 229,000,000,000 emails sent today, apparently!).
In plenary and group feedback time, use the “there’s just so much participation going on I can’t capture it all!” trick to ignore or skip over what you don’t want to deal with or what doesn’t fit with where you need the workshop to go. After a few ignores, most people will give up and start grumbling, but that makes them look bad, not you. When this happens, give a pep talk about how important everyone’s participation is, admonish the group for not participating, ask if they are tired, and have the day’s volunteer animator lead an embarrassing (singing/dancing) ice breaker to motivate them.
Just one of a range of ‘facipulation‘ strategies brought to you by the achingly funny blog Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like.
The New Year brings news of a boom in facial hair implants in Istanbul. Follically-challenged men are coming from all corners of the Middle East to bolster their beards and multiply their moustaches. For a cool $2,300, those looking for wives or social advancement can buy themselves a head start at one of the city’s cosmetic surgeries – there are even special hair transplant tour packages, estimated to bring in 50 Arab tourists a day.
‘Thick hair is a status symbol,’ one cosmetic surgeon told the Guardian. Another, who is optimistically hoping to expand his operations to smooth-skinned Europe, reported: ‘Both in Turkey and in Arab countries facial hair is associated with masculinity, and its lack can cause social difficulties. Businessmen come to me to get beard and moustache implants, because they say that business partners do not take them seriously if they don’t sport facial hair.’
Global Dashboard readers planning business ventures in the Middle East – male ones anyway – take note.
The received wisdom about the Tea Party is that it’s pretty different in character to the old Moral Majority style religious right that was such a huge factor in US politics in the 1980s. But not all that different, it turns out.
Polling undertaken in 2010 by the US-based Public Religion Research Institute found that 47% of Americans who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement also said that they are part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement; and two years later, a poll by the same organisation undertaken just before the 2012 election found that 79% of voters in Romney’s coalition were white Christians – among whom white evangelicals were by far the largest component.
As a result, Protestant fundamentalists views and concerns continue to shape Republican positions on climate change and environment policy. Despite moves among some US evangelicals towards much more progressive positions on the environment, this remains the exception rather than the norm. Another 2012 PRRI poll included data suggesting that – wait for it – nearly 65% of white evangelical Protestants believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of Biblical end times (rather than human-caused climate change); and 55% of Republicans say the government should not do more to address climate change.
Admittedly, the political clout of the religious right appears to be on the ebb, and Romney’s poor result in the 2012 election led PRRI to proclaim “the end of a white Christian strategy among voters”. It’s also important to note that a significant and growing majority of the US public that believes that climate change is happening (69% in 2011) and believes that the US government should do more to address the problem (67%).
But while conservative Christians may gradually be losing their capacity to set political agendas, their continuing dominance in the Republican Party means that they have a continuing capacity to block political agendas – particularly given on-going Republican dominance in the House of Representatives. The religious right still matters (like hell, as one might say) for environmental politics in the US and globally.