Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why Did Climate Change Mitigation Become a "Wedge" Issue Between Republicans and Democrats?

Will Al Gore's Nobel Prize end up causing climate change? Huh? As climate change mitigation efforts and "Ivy League Democrats" became synonyms, opposing such legislation has become a political litmus test for being a "true" Republican. Did this have to happen?

Some facts:

"Dunlap and McCright (2008) report that in 2008 there was 34 percentage point gap between Democrats and Republicans in their agreement with a statement that the effects of global warming have already begun, up from a 4 percentage point gap in 1997. The 2008 National Environmental Scorecard of the League of Conservation Voters gives the House Democratic leadership a score of 95 (out of a best score of 100) and the Republican leadership a score of 3. A 2009 Pew survey found a 23 percentage gap between Democrat and Republican agreement with the statement that people should be willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment. Prescriptions for energy policy differ between Democrats and Republicans: 88 percent of Republicans favor drilling in U.S. waters compared to 56 percent of Democrats. The two word phrase "fuel efficiency" was one of the top phrases used by Congressional Democrats but not by Republicans (Gentzkow and Shapiro 2010)." source .

I'd like to know whether any political scientists work on "ideological convergence" --- we know after the 9/11/2001 attacks that the Senate voted 99 to 1 to "do something" about the Bad Guys. Do only "salient shocks" bring about such unity?

Did the Democrats make a tactical mistake in claiming this issue as "their issue" and thus repelling potentially sympathetic Republicans? When can cross-party coalitions be formed?

A "self interest" story would say that liberal states are less likely to bear the effects of cap & trade the way that coal extraction states will. But, such endowment stories can't explain the dynamics in opinion over time and the "divergence". Endowments are a "fixed effect".

When I was spending a lot of time at USC this spring, I talked at length with Jim Haw. He is a Professor there responsible for their undergraduate environmental major. In our talks about climate change politics, he stressed that a politically neutral way of discussing the issue was as "climate hygiene". Just as you have to brush your teeth and take a bath, you have to take certain steps to make sure the climate system is healthy. This "spin" on this hot button issue shifts the focus from whether a given person is a "good person" or a given company is a "good company" to a less judgemental worldview of simply engaging in day to day steps (like brushing your teeth) that become part of our routine.

But think about it, if 300 million Americans each brush their teeth for 10 minutes a day, then we sepnd 3 billion minutes a day brushing our teeth and that equals 5 million hours. If we value our time at $15 an hour, then we are spending $75 million dollars a day to brush our teeth or 27 billion dollars a year on this activity. So even, "small investments" add up to look like they have large price tags but nobody debates the merits of brushing your teeth. Could climate change mitigation have been converted into a similar activity in terms of it being second nature that we engage in it without debating its merits or politicizing the entire topic?

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