Gallup poll reported that only 53 percent of Americans think that global warming is a serious threat to themselves or their family, down from 63 percent in 2007.
Climate Shift, a new report released this spring by American University professor, Matthew Nisbet, aims to find out why climate change policy and understanding has stalled. The report is part of a larger research effort by a network of social scientists, media analysts, and other scholars to tackle the complex issue from a broad point of view, looking at the climate change threat from an economic, social, and even philosophical perspective.
The report is huge in scope and Nisbet tries to tackle many dimensions of the climate change debate, focusing mainly on flaws within the environmental movement and ultimately calling for a shift in strategy. In the report, he reviewed the funding sources and expenditures for the major national environmental groups and compared them to conservative think tanks and their industry allies, the latter of which lobbied against the 2009 cap and trade climate change legislation. He looked at patterns in media portrayals of climate change and the amount of attention this issue receives in the media. He also examined factors that influence how both the general public and scientists/ environmentalists interpret and view climate change politics.
Overall, he argues that the reason science communication over climate change has failed is because it has been communicated in a political context, framed within specific policy solutions that are polarized across the liberal/ conservative spectrum. He points that out that as the Democratically introduced cap and trade legislation became more politically viable in 2009-2010, there was a simultaneous increase in climate skepticism among Republicans. Similarly, Nisbet contends that while Al Gore has been instrumental in bringing the climate change issue to the forefront, he has had a polarizing influence in the climate change debate by pairing the message of climate change with strong criticism of Republicans.
Nisbet calls for the need to present climate change as an issue, similar to public health and poverty, that requires addressing on many levels, not just in the context of single policy solutions. He argues that rather than spending money and resources on countering claims of Republicans and conservatives, environmental groups should invest in a broader range of policies, smaller in scope, and across several levels of government, including towns and counties, to engage people directly. He also proposes the climate change be framed as an opportunity for technological innovation in terms of moving away from an oil-based economy, rather than as a pollution issue.
The report has garnered mixed reactions from the environmental community and the blogosphere. Some find Nisbet's criticism of the environmental movement offensive and accuse him of blaming environmentalists for the death of cap and trade. Others are praising the report for raising valid questions and proposing a fresh take on how to approach climate change communication. Either way, the report has spawned much discussion and is bound to be influential in shaping the future of climate change policy.