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Rob Horowitz: Momentum Behind New Action on Climate Change

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

While public opinion had been moving toward greater support for measures addressing climate change, there is new momentum behind increased federal action now that Hurricane Sandy has wreaked havoc and billions of dollars of damage on the east coast.
According to a poll conducted this past April by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, nearly seven out of 10 Americans believe that global warming is affecting weather in the United States. Their September survey showed six in 10 Americans think that Congress “should do more to address global warming” -- an increase of more than 10 percent from the number of people who supported more action two years ago.

About 30 percent of the electorate are so-called swing voters on climate change, according to Stanford University Professor Joe Krosnick, an expert in public opinion on environmental issues. These are people with low confidence in scientists and whose views are very influenced by the weather. Hurricane Sandy -- with its saturation media coverage, all-too-many stories of human tragedy and a level of damage forcing Governors along the Eastern seaboard to move up active planning for climate change adaptation -- will result in more of these voters being persuaded that action is required. This is especially the case if more extreme weather events. including storms of greater intensity, continue, as is predicted.
This new public support and elite-level interest in action on climate change should not be overstated. As President Obama said in his media conference last week, jobs and economic growth take precedence and thorny regional and partisan obstacles remain a bridge too far to win adoption of the kind of sweeping climate change legislation backed by the President early in his first term. This legislation, which narrowly passed the then-Democratically controlled House of Representatives and stalled in the Senate, included a national cap and trade system for carbon, among other ambitious provisions.
However, there is now more political room to advance incremental measures that address the issue of climate change, such as stepped-up support for funding for energy conservation and renewable energy sources. It will be up to advocates of climate change action and their allies in Congress to develop a politically realistic agenda to capitalize on this new found momentum.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

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