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Should We Be Optimistic About Climate Change? October 20, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, ethics of care.
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A new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has some good news and bad news for the planet. NY Times reporter, Felicity Barringer points to the ignorance revealed by the report — for instance, over two-thirds of the public think aerosol sprays contribute to climate change. (It is the ozone layer that is damaged by aerosols, not the climate.)  But on a more positive note, most people accept the fact that the climate is changing although they know little about why it is changing. And even more positive is the finding that they trust scientists to provide them with the information they lack.

Americans’ most trusted sources of information about global warming are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (78%), the National Science Foundation (74%), scientists (72%), science programs on television (72%), natural history museums (73%), and science museums (72%).

This suggests that the relentless right-wing campaign of obfuscation hasn’t worked.

But David Roberts at Grist argues that misinformation is not the real problem.

Insofar as lack of public engagement is the problem, the cause is not misinformation, it’s the lack of affective information — information that is meaningful, that speaks to core fears and aspirations. The main problem is apathy. People just don’t care much. Green journos and pundits tend to wildly overestimate the significance of accurate knowledge and wildly underestimate the significance of emotional resonance.

Those trying to spread the word on climate change have the advantage in numbers. The majority of Americans accept that climate change is happening and almost three-quarters get a passing grade — C or above — on Yale’s scale of knowledge. Where the denialists have the overwhelming advantage is in intensity. As rejection of climate science and climate solutions has become an ideological litmus test on the right, millions of Republicans have come to believe that climate science is not just incorrect but a hoax meant to further U.N. world government. They are pissed.

Very few of those who correctly believe that climate change is happening are pissed about it. More like “concerned,” the way people are concerned about homelessness or poverty in Africa, like, y’know, somebody (else) should really do something about that. Few write letters to legislators or hassle them about it in town halls. Almost no one will change their vote over it. No legislator stands to be primaried or driven from office over it.

In other words, all the intensity, and thus all the political risk, is on one side. For the political landscape to change in coming years, what’s needed is not a massive education campaign — though it certainly couldn’t hurt! — but a shift in the balance of intensity. The question is how to reduce the intensity of denialists and increase the intensity of climate hawks.

Roberts is optimistic about the future.

The backlash against cap-and-trade — not even the policy, the grotesque caricature of it painted by its opponents — won’t hold back the low-carbon tide forever. Voters already love clean energy; they think fossil fuels should be subsidized less and renewables more. The EPA is moving, states are moving, cities are moving, businesses are moving. As such efforts touch more and more lives, the issue will become less abstract. As people integrate clean energy into their worldview, intensity against climate science will fade and intensity behind reforms will increase.

Y’all know I’m not exactly a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I really think the death of the climate bill is a “darkest before the dawn” kind of moment. The larger forces of history are moving in the right direction. There’s only so long America’s peculiar, dysfunctional political system can resist.

I’m not quite so optimistic, not because of the persuasive power of right-wing politics but because of the peculiarities of climate change and the inherent difficulties in seeing climate change as a moral issue. I think it is a serious moral issue, but it requires a substantial re-conceptualization of ethics to see it as such.

I will have more to say about this over the next few days.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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Public Opinion Redux October 12, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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The most recent Bloomberg Poll has some interesting results on the fate of health care reform.

Here is the relevant question:

Turning to the health care law passed earlier this year, what is your opinion of the bill — should it be repealed or not?

It should be repealed: 47%
It should not be repealed: 42%
Not sure: 11%

It looks like this ought to be discouraging for proponents of reform. Until voters are polled on what’s in the health care law.

A 54% majority don’t want to bring back the lifetime caps on expenditures. A 75% majority do not want to repeal protections for pre-existing conditions. 60% want to preserve the insurance exchanges for the unemployed. 67% want to keep the elements of the law that allow kids up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ policies. 73% want to fill the Medicare donut hole.

Republicans seem to think that their calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act will be popular. Good luck with that.

But it would be nice if the public had a clue about what was in the bill.

Of course, if you get your news from the mainstream media you are likely to be confused about basic facts.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Befuddlement Over Reactions to TARP October 6, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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It is a matter of enduring befuddlement why TARP, the legislation that rescued the banks and other financial institutions, remains unpopular.

Although it is appropriate to question the fairness of a program that rescued wealthy bankers and not homeowners, nevertheless the TARP programs were largely successful in accomplishing their task without very little costs to taxpayers.

Even as voters rage and candidates put up ads against government bailouts, the reviled mother of them all — the $700 billion lifeline to banks, insurance and auto companies — will expire after Sunday at a fraction of that cost, and could conceivably earn taxpayers a profit.

A final accounting of the government’s full range of interventions in the economy, including the bailouts of the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is years off and will most likely remain controversial and potentially costly.

But the once-unthinkable possibility that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program could end up costing far less, or even nothing, became more likely on Thursday with the news that the government had negotiated a plan with the American International Group to begin repaying taxpayers.

Two years ago, many assumed that the hundreds of millions of dollars authorized to be spent to rescue Wall St. would disappear. But now it appears likely that the whole program will cost nothing and the public may actually make money on it.

Of course, we almost certainly won’t hear anyone from the administration boasting about these encouraging results, because public revulsion for TARP is unrivaled in our discourse. Indeed, the word “bailout” has managed to become synonymous with “evil,” so much so that nearly every policy debate involves participants trying to figure out a way to characterize the other side’s position as a “bailout” to someone.

Brian A. Bethune, the chief financial economist in the United States for IHS/Global Insight, called the program over all “a tremendous success.” Another industry insider said that TARP “is the best federal program of any real size to be despised by the public like this.”

It is estimated that letting the banks fail would have increased unemployment to at least 16% if not more.

As Matt Yglesias wrote:

Do you think letting the banks fail would have had zero disruptive impact on the economy? None whatsoever? What other programs can you name that garnered support from Nancy Pelosi and George W Bush, helped people millions of people, and had a negative cost to the government? And yet people think it’s horrible, in part because the public sphere has utterly failed to defend it.

That’s a problem, in part because the early days of TARP were a huge success for the public sphere…. It became a lost opportunity for ideological instruction. Instead it’s become a moment of anti-instruction, which people think has demonstrated the lesson that the government consists of nothing but corrupt giveaways. It makes me sad. When it was first proposed, I didn’t understand this issue correctly. But in the ensuing two years, I’ve learned more about it and improved my understanding. The public as a whole, however, as just gotten itself more confused.

It doesn’t take much to get the public confused these days.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Depressed June 13, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Last Wednesday, our only hope for near-term legislation that takes a first step toward confronting climate change was put to rest. Lindsey Graham, the only Republican who would even talk about such legislation, withdrew his support from the Kerry-Leiberman bill (which Graham helped to write) because it doesn’t allow enough oil drilling to please conservatives. And if Graham is not on board, no Republican is on board.

However, Stanford researcher Jon Krosnick claims this is exactly what the American public wants:

When respondents were asked if they thought that the earth’s temperature probably had been heating up over the last 100 years, 74 percent answered affirmatively. And 75 percent of respondents said that human behavior was substantially responsible for any warming that has occurred.

….Fully 86 percent of our respondents said they wanted the federal government to limit the amount of air pollution that businesses emit, and 76 percent favored government limiting business’s emissions of greenhouse gases in particular. Not a majority of 55 or 60 percent — but 76 percent.

Large majorities opposed taxes on electricity (78 percent) and gasoline (72 percent) to reduce consumption. But 84 percent favored the federal government offering tax breaks to encourage utilities to make more electricity from water, wind and solar power. And huge majorities favored government requiring, or offering tax breaks to encourage, each of the following: manufacturing cars that use less gasoline (81 percent); manufacturing appliances that use less electricity (80 percent); and building homes and office buildings that require less energy to heat and cool (80 percent).

As Kevin Drum notes:

So there you have it: the American public believes in global warming and wants the government to do something about it. However, the American public doesn’t want to do anything — carbon taxes or cap-and-trade — that might actually work. But they do want to open the federal goody bag and dole out subsidies and tax breaks to everyone under the sun, presumably because these all sound like pleasant things to do and they’re under the impression that they’re all “free.” Whether they work or not isn’t really on their radar.

And it looks like that’s what Congress is going to deliver. We are, in this case, getting exactly the government we deserve. A government of children.

Indeed. I complain quite a lot about clueless politicians on this blog. But behind every clueless politician there are millions of clueless voters.

But perhaps the descriptor “clueless” gives them too much credit. It isn’t as if the threat of global warming hasn’t been publicized.

Voters aren’t clueless. As Drum says, they are just juvenile.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com