The Margin of Victory for Climate Legislation

So it’s been interesting to read Matthew Nisbet’s Powershift report alongside the Spring issue of Sociological Quarterly, which contains a series of themed essays in a special section called, “Symposium on the Politics of Climate Change.” I’ll be discussing one of the pieces at length in a post that will go up tomorrow at the Climate Central blog.

Meanwhile, related to all the agitation stirred up by Nisbet’s report, I want to flag an excerpt in the Sociological Quarterly, from a commentary by Ohio State sociologist  J. Craig Jenkins:

Many pieces of major “watershed” legislation have often incubated on the margins of the governmental policy agenda for many years before a crisis created opportunities for legislation. In most cases, these bills were part of a reform period in which a strong center/left governing coalition was able to override obstacles to major legislation. The abolition of slavery and radical reconstruction in and immediately after the Civil War, the “Second New Deal” in the mid-1930, and the Civil Rights Acts and “Great Society” legislation in the 1960s all fit this pattern. The strong Democratic margin in the 211th Congress was enough to secure the House passage of the Waxman-Markey Bill but the legislation died in the Senate, which had already voted three times in the past decade against global warming. Until a comparable governmental margin again occurs, it seems unlikely that the issue will again become the subject of legislation. Meanwhile, its proponents will have to continue to press their cause through the mass media, in the arena of public opinion, in elections and before Congress and the White House.

11 Responses to “The Margin of Victory for Climate Legislation”

  1. harrywr2 says:

    Did the Senate vote against ‘Global Warming’ or did they vote against a policy where the ‘high energy consuming states’ would bear the brunt of the economic pain in the proposed policy of addressing ‘global warming’?
    I would also note that the ‘slavery issue’ was resolved by a Civil War which resulted in 618,000 dead out of a total population of 31 million.
    Something most fold would want to avoid repeating.
    I also don’t think many would willingly opt for the civil of unrest of the 1960’s or for that matter the economic circumstances of the great depression.

  2. Ed Forbes says:

    “…I also don’t think many would willingly opt for the civil of unrest of the 1960″²s or for that matter the economic circumstances of the great depression…”

    We keep up with $Trillion + deficits and we just may see such unrest. Bad things happen with budgets this far out of whack.

    Adding to the cost of fuel to “reduce” CO2 will NOT make life better under such a situation.

  3. kdk33 says:

    “We keep up with $Trillion + deficits and we just may see such unrest. ”

    Ya think.

  4. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Keith without having read the report (full disclaimer), I can’t help but wonder/question/dismiss any historical analysis along the lines that Jenkins makes unless it makes an effort to address the ramifications of the fundamental shift in the norms of the Senate.  this is important. and y’all (dems and GOPs) should spend more time discussing it.
    oh and btw thanks for the link to TNR.  Plumer makes the same point methinks.

  5. Paul Kelly says:

    Jenkins says: The political impasse over global warming legislation stems from obstacles in the mass media arena, public awareness, electoral politics as well as governmental policy. Advocates of global warming policy have to be simultaneously successful in all four major public arenas to prevail.

  6. Gaythia says:

    I live in a swing state, Colorado, and a swing Congressional District, the 4th.  This district has gone from ultra right Republican Marilyn Musgrave to Betsy Markey in 2008, and back again to Repulican Cory Gardner in 2010. (Betsy is not the Markey of the Waxman-Markey bill above, that’s Ed).
    The way that our political process works, the margins of Congressional victory depend on a relatively small number of swing voters in these swing districts.   These are people who are far more likely to be reached by FOX than the New York Times.  John Stewart and Steven Colbert are also likely communicators.  Obama reached many of them with his message of change, but since then, in my opinion, disillusionment has set in.
    The average academic scientist is not intrinsically a good public communicator choice.  The reception of Nisbet’s report, in my opinion, suffers because Nisbet himself is more attuned to the academic and east coast viewpoints and modes of presentation.  Romm came out swinging because he realized that there were problems here, but the way he swings only aggravates the very things he worries about.

  7. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Here’s my pull quote from Jenkins: “The opponents have mounted a well-resourced and effective campaign that exploits media reporting norms, journalists’ inclination to avoid controversial and complex topics that might threaten advertisers, and, by creating drama around the ‘dueling scientists,’ has created public skepticism about mainstream climate science”
    The whole focus on the symposium was really about the futility of an “information deficit” approach to public beliefs about climate science in the face of a well-organized disinformation campaign and you manage to omit that major point from this post. Without that context, I don’t think the quotation Keith selected adequately expresses what Jenkins’s sentiments.

  8. Gaythia says:

    Another point regarding Jenkins, since I was willing to pay to get behind the paywall on the article linked to above, I searched around for other material by the same author.  I note that his apparent work on “Civil Society and the Environment” seems to have been done in conjunction with Robert Brulle of Drexell University, who would be presumably, the referee who dropped out of Nisbet’s study and called it to the attention of Romm.
    In my opinion this would fit with what Jonathan Gilligan says about the “sense of Jenkins sentiments” above.

  9. Gaythia says:

    “unwilling” to pay

  10. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Gaythia: Brulle also has a paper in the same issue of SQ as Jenkins.
    The “symposium” part of this issue comprises a big (40 page) paper on public opinion and political polarization by McCright & Dunlap and three commentaries (Antonio & Brulle; Nagel; and Jenkins).
    Short summary: McCright and Dunlap draw on 10 years of Gallup public opinion data to test six hypotheses about the existence, characteristics, and causes of political polarization in belief about anthropogenic climate change and its severity. They work largely within the framework of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens’s “reflexive modernization” paradigm testing how well this paradigm works to explain trends in public opinion in contrast to the the “anti-reflexivity” criticism introduced in 2005 by Myanna Lahsen and later extended by McCright.
    To oversimplify “reflexive modernization” posits that emerging global environmental threats (including but not limited to climate change) will drive public sentiment toward a populist criticism of industrial capitalism (more accurately, they talk about applying the critical methods the enlightenment used to debunk superstition and promote civil rights in the early modern era (feudal economies, divine right of kings, etc.) reflexively to the institutions of the late-modern era (free markets, globalization, institutionalized science and technology, etc.)) and the emergence of a “second modern era” in which the political economy is organized more to manage ubiquitous risks than to manage scarce resources. The anti-reflexivity paradigm posits that this populist movement will by stymied by astroturf disinformation campaigns (see, e.g., Lahsen’s “Democracy, Technocracy, and U.S. Climate Politics“)
    Back to the issue at hand, McCright and Dunlap conclude that public opinion in the US demonstrates big problems with reflexive modernity and tends to support Lahsen’s anti-reflexivity criticism. This means that education will likely be futile at remedying the political polarization in belief about climate change:
    “The moderating effect of political orientation challenges the common assumption of climate change communicators (e.g., scientists and policymakers) that more information or education will help convince Americans of the need to deal with climate change. Particularly for those on the Right, this seems unlikely to prove effective. … This … poses a challenge for proponents of reflexive modernization, as a growing percentage of the American public””and not just self-interested industrial/conservative elites””denies the scientific evidence documenting anthropogenic climate change and thus the need for ameliorative action. This diffusion of anti-reflexivity throughout society results in a declining portion of the populace willing to acknowledge a major negative consequence of industrial capitalism. The culture wars have thus taken on a new dimension, with serious implications for long-term societal resilience.”

  11. Gaythia says:

    Jonathan, Thanks! Very interesting.  I will definitely read this in detail.  Here in Colorado, I have been involved in a series of meetings that is attempting to bridge some of these sorts of differences, focusing on water resource planning, through a deliberative process:
    This is a slow procedure.  It certainly sorts for those with time on their hands or a dedicated agenda.  But, I think that some middle ground has been created.   But it is not clear to me that the seriously opposing forces will be satisfied by a negotiated settlement, even if a court fight is problematical.   At the extremes, environmentalists want to block a dam and create a  river, in a I would say a somewhat imaginary, not entirely historically based, wild and natural state; and large scale agriculture wants to grow irrigated corn “without government interference”, while neglecting to note extensive use of public water diversion and storage facilities or a seriously depleting aquifer.   Not to mention that small scale farmers do not always seem to recognize their own lack of real commonality with agribusiness.  Additionally, the “private property rights” creed they seem to subscribe to ultimately results in the sale of land and water rights for development, and thus the end of their own way of life.  And of course, there is the classic stance of us city folk, wanting everything to stay just the way it was when we arrived.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.