Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Q Day 3: The Future of Climate as an Issue?

An anonymous commenter:
How do you see the politics of global warming evolving as its effects increasingly effect average people? Will conservatives be hit for supporting bunk denier science? Or do you think Republicans will simply revise their stance and maintain similar levels of public trust and support? I know I'm asking a big question that hinges on future circumstances we can't exactly predict, but I'm curious to know your thoughts.
There are a couple things going on with climate. One is polarization; partisans are treating it as a normal partisan issue, which means they take on the views of their "side." The other is normal interest group politics. Those two things overlap, but they're not the same.

Two things could break the current impasse in favor of action.

One is that the configuration of interest group politics could change in favor of legislation. This could happen in a few different ways. Interests that favor the status quo might flip, if (for business interests) climate change makes it more profitable to support regulation (or other government intervention). The other would be if climate change pushes groups that are currently indifferent (such as, say, big agriculture) or are not currently organized (such as, say, people who live on coasts) to become highly active on the pro-intervention side. I don't really know enough about the science or the specific economics of things to know how likely any of those things might be.

The other is that the next time Democrats have working control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, they'll go ahead and pass something. I find that very likely. My guess would be that climate now sits very high on the list of priorities for Democratic activists, at least assuming that between now and then Republicans are unsuccessful in repealing anything that's already been checked off on liberal to-do lists.

But other than in sense that it changes the position of organized interests, I don't expect new evidence to change the views of partisans. The nature of this stuff is that no single event can be definitively tied to climate change, much less to human-caused climate change, and even less than that to the absence of any specific government-imposed solution. So I don't really expect events to change public perception very much over time. On the other hand, I could certainly see generational effects changing public opinion over time -- although I don't know whether the numbers actually fall on that.

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