Marketing the climate crisis

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The Democratic presidential field is dwindling, with the first tier candidates (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders & Elizabeth Warren) jockeying for position and lower tier candidates striving frantically to improve their standing before time runs out. One common tactic is to advocate “progressive” positions that will resonate with members of the party’s base (which is well left of center within the overall party).

Some issues, e.g., immigration or guns/gun controls, are currently perceived by Americans to be of high importance when they are asked to identify their top issue. Global warming (aka climate change), however, is apparently low on the national worry list. Most important problem,, accessed

•The Aug. 2019 results indicate that Americans are more concerned with non-economic problems (86%) than with economic problems (11%).

•Within the non-economic category, the leading issues are perceived to be “the government/poor leadership” (22%), immigration (18%), guns/gun control (8%, sharply up since July), race relations/racism (8%), and healthcare (6%). Only 3% identified “environment/pollution/climate change” as their top issue.

Tepid public concern about global warming is frustrating for climate hawks, and has apparently fueled the perception that they have a marketing problem. Selling the science of climate change,, 5/4/18.

The scientific consensus is that human activity is cooking the planet and disrupting our economies. Yet many people still don’t believe that climate change will affect them personally, or they deny the urgency of the problem. Can better communication help sell the science of climate change? “Only the repetition of simple messages changes public opinion and affects the brain,” says David Fenton, a four-decade veteran of PR campaigns for the environment, public health and human rights. “If you are not using effective messages that you repeat, repeat, repeat and are simple, then you get nowhere.”

The case being made for the manmade global warming theory is simplistic (inconvenient facts are ignored or glossed over), exaggerated (the deadline for action to avert catastrophe is generally only 10-20 years in the future), and aggressive (skeptics are attacked as science deniers, oil company shills, etc.). In sum, the argument is about politics vs. science. Mid-term issues: renewable energy,

Determined to establish global warming as one of the key issues in the 2020 elections, climate hawks are sparing no effort to ensure that the Democratic president nominee (whoever it turns out to be) will advocate a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels in favor of wind and solar energy.

This theme was sounded repeatedly at a climate crisis townhall for Democratic presidential candidates on September 4, which was broadcast from New York City and ran from 5:00 PM until midnight. It was subsequently reprised in the third round of Democratic presidential debates on September 12.

A. Climate townhall – Here’s the schedule for this event, which with allowance for commercial breaks gave each of the candidates about 30 minutes to field questions on their previously provided policy proposals. CNN’s “climate crisis” townhall will last 7 hours, Tim Pearce, Washington Examiner, 8/28/19.

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The ten candidates appeared individually, in their respective time slots, to be questioned by the moderators plus audience members. On the plus side, this permitted a more in-depth discussion than is possible in the regular candidate debates.

Query, however, whether the townhall was designed to encourage the honest expression of opinions. If any candidate had questioned whether a true climate crisis was brewing or failed to support “cost is no object” action to address it, he(she) would have been attacked by the moderators/ audience members for disloyalty.

Instead of referencing videos of the action, here’s a summary based on secondary sources – starting with a positive review. 6 winners and 3 losers from CNN’s climate town hall, Umair Irfan et al.,,

Each candidate was [afforded the opportunity to] provide long, nuanced answers to hard questions on the most far-reaching issue of our time. *** The town hall easily outshone the muddled discussion in the paltry half-hour or so devoted to climate change across eight hours of official Democratic debates.


•Jay Inslee for offering lots of fodder for the global warming debate before dropping out of the presidential race in August.

• Sunrise Movement (a youth-led political movement) for helping to design the Green New Deal proposal and for advocating a townhall on climate change.

•Bernie Sanders for outlining “the only plan so far that rivals Inslee’s in scope and ambition . . . [including semi-nationalization of] the nation’s electric utilities.”

•Audience members for sharing their personal stories, including a mother who lost her daughter to Superstorm Sandy, a nurse concerned about climate impacts on her low-income patients, etc.

•CNN for hosting “seven hours of sustained, substantive, primetime discussion on climate change — something that would have been unthinkable even six months ago — with very little fat on it.”

• Democratic Party - The candidates represented the party proudly. They “did not attack one another; they spent very little time attacking Republicans; even Trump himself only got a few callouts. Almost the entire event was devoted to forward-looking social and policy discussion. It was downright inspiring.”


•Joe Biden - Compared to Sanders and Warren, the current Democratic frontrunner failed to “offer a clear vision on climate.” Thus, he “declined to join some of his opponents in supporting a nationwide ban on fracking [and] kept returning to the point that his experience talking to world leaders as Obama’s vice president would help him build an international climate coalition.”

•Oil & Gas companies - The townhall demonstrated how the party’s energy policy has evolved over the past several years, e.g., from (a) allowing oil & gas companies to earn pots of money while pocketing government subsidies (some $400 billion per year according to Bernie Sanders), to (b) restricting their activities to preserve the environment. All ten candidates want to ban drilling on public lands; Bernie Sanders supports criminal prosecution of climate polluters; Kamala Harris wants to sue oil & gas companies “for causing harm and death in communities;” Cory Booker & Bernie Sanders want to ban fracking nationwide; and Julian Castro wants to ban the use of natural gas because “we’re coming to the end of the bridge.” Several candidates offered ideas to reduce the oil industry’s influence in politics by curbing what Andrew Yang calls a “misinformation campaign” about climate change costing “tens of millions a year.”

•Meat – Candidates were asked how they would encourage reduced meat consumption. Among the suggestions: nutrition labels to educate Americans about the environmental impacts of meat production, a carbon tax to increase awareness of the issue, and restricting subsidies of the meat industry. Pete Buttigieg did say, however, that contrary to a Republican talking point it would not be necessary to “abolish the cow.”

Other information about the townhall was less favorable, starting with the relatively small number of Americans who watched it. CNN gets blown out in ratings, Alicia Luke,,

Far-left cable news network CNN suffered a blowout in ratings during their propaganda climate change town hall event this week, coming in dead last among all the cable news networks and during prime time hours barely getting one-third of the total amount of viewers that Fox News garnered.

As for policy ideas, many of the proposals were more about virtue signaling (reduced meat consumption, banning of plastic straws, etc.) than drastically curbing carbon emissions. Note the failure to advocate increased use of nuclear power, which unlike wind or solar power could actually drive the electric grid on a reliable and cost-effective basis. Can the climate cause survive the Democratic primaries, James Freeman, Wall Street Journal,

•Former Vice President Joe Biden called climate change “an existential threat” and spoke at length about his $1.7 trillion plan to move America to “net zero emissions,” yet he never mentioned nuclear power.

•Sen. Kamala Harris promised to do “whatever is necessary” to address the climate “emergency.” But when asked about zero-emission nuclear power she expressed only reservations, e.g., political opposition to a nuclear waste facility in Nevada.

•Sen. Elizabeth Warren advocated a massive effort to reduce US carbon emissions as “Life on Earth is at risk,” but when asked about a potential switch to nuclear power she cited risks associated with the spent fuel rods and said “we are going to start weaning ourselves off nuclear energy and replacing it with renewable fuels.”

•Sen. Bernie Sanders raised a similar objection to the long-term storage of nuclear waste; he also expressed concern about the costs of nuclear power, “which would be a first for the man who backs a $16 trillion climate plan on top of his $33 trillion health plan.”

Speaking of cost, it seemed as though the candidates were running a bidding war. The Democrats’ dilemma, Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal,

Elizabeth Warren bid $3 trillion to save the planet, and Beto O’Rourke upped that to $5 trillion. Andrew Yang matched his $5 trillion and Julián Castro raised the bid to $10 trillion. Naturally Kamala Harris matched his $10 trillion. Then Bernie Sanders, God love him, blew away the bidding with $16 trillion, which he said would “pay for itself.”

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, we believe the climate townhall will be “little noted, nor long remembered.” But for anyone who happens to feel otherwise, here is some encouraging news. CNN’s climate crisis townhall, Ted Johnson,,

If candidates fell short of honing their climate messages after seven hours, they will get the chance to do so again. NBC News Now and Telemundo are streaming a climate change forum hosted by Georgetown University on September 19 and 20.

B. Democratic candidates debate – A third round of debates for Democratic presidential debates took place last week on September 12. As only 10 candidates (the same candidates who participated in the climate townhall) had made the cut, there was a single debate versus two in the first and second rounds. The event was sponsored by ABC and aired from Houston, Texas. Transcript, 9/13/19.

The presence of all the debate participants on the stage at the same time fueled speculation about the competitive dynamics, which is probably the main draw for viewers at this stage of the game. 2020 Democrats Will Face Off on One Stage for the First Time Tonight, Madeleine Carlisle,,

A single night of debate may draw new contrasts between candidates. Biden and Warren will be on the same stage for the first time. Warren and Harris, the two top-polling women, will also appear on the same stage for the first time.

In the event, the ABC debate ratings were quite high, although anyone hoping for drama was probably disappointed (note the congeniality displayed in the photo of Biden and Warren). Democratic Debate #3 viewership on ABC & Univision hits 14M, Dominic Patten,,

Many subjects came up in the course of the debate, notably alleged deficiencies of the current president and healthcare, but for present purposes let’s focus on just one. Would the candidates remember the lines they had rehearsed at the climate crisis townhall and weave them into their respective presentations?

The debate began (Transcript, p. 6) with one-minute statements from each candidate, three of whom brought up global warming:

•Julian Castro spoke of “unleashing millions of new jobs in the clean energy economy.”

•Bernie Sanders said “we will address the catastrophic crisis of climate change and transform our energy system away from fossil fuel.”

•Joe Biden said “I refuse to postpone any longer taking on climate change and leading the world in taking on climate change.”

In the first question of the debate (T-16), Joe Biden was invited to comment on why he hadn’t proposed to back Medicare for All or match the spending levels advocated by Sanders & Warren to “combat climate change and tackle student debt.” Biden’s answer was along the lines that there wasn’t as much money available as his opponents wanted to spend; the subject of global warming wasn’t pursued as such.

When global warming came up again (T-60), it was in the context of passing legislation in the Senate by abolishing the filibuster or using the budget reconciliation process. Barnie Sanders said he didn’t plan to wait for 60 votes to pass major legislation, such as “the gun legislation the people here are talking about, Medicare for all, [or] climate change legislation that saves the planet.”

Pete Buttigieg faulted the president (T-73) for being absent at the G7 meeting when “the leaders of some of the greatest powers and economies of the world” convened to discuss "one of the greatest challenges in the world, climate change.”

Kamala Harris said (T-76) there was a need to hold China accountable on trade policies, but also a “need to partner with China on climate and the crisis that that represents.”

Cory Booker spoke (T-80) of “the global crisis of climate change” and questioned the way in which the president “is pulling us . . . out of the Paris climate accord.” He added that standing “with our allies in common cause and common purpose” is how “we beat climate change on the planet Earth.”

Instead of spending $750 billion on the military, said Bernie Sanders (T-89), “let’s bring this world together” on fighting climate change and terrorism.

It was suggested that “President Trump and Brazil’s President Bolsonaro are concerned that climate change regulations could affect economic growth,” but Cory Booker declined (T-94) to urge that Americans emulate him by adopting a vegan diet.

About 2/3 of the way through the debate, following references to Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the Amazon burning, Greenland melting at a record pace, and the last five years being “the hottest ever recorded,” a specific question (T-96) was addressed to Beto O’Rourke.

What meaningful action will you take to reverse the effect of climate change? And can we count on you to follow through if your donors are against it?

Yes, we will follow through,” replied O’Rourke, “regardless of the political consequences or who it offends, because this is the very future of our planet and our ability for our children and grandchildren to be able to survive on it.” Net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 – mobilize $5 trillion over the next 10 years – invest here in Houston in pre-disaster mitigation – embrace wind and solar power technology and the high-paying jobs that come with it – pay farmers for planting cover crops, no-till farming, etc.

The moderator at this point (Univision anchor Jorge Ramos) followed up with other candidates to bring them into the conversation on this topic.

Amy Klobuchar described her approach for addressing this “existential crisis” in quasi-biblical terms (T-98): Day one – get us back in the “international climate change agreement;” Day two – bring back the clean power rules; Day three – bring back the gas mileage standards; Days four, five and six – working with Congress and mayors and business people all over the country, introduce sweeping legislation to get at that 2050 goal [net zero carbon emissions]. “And on day seven, you're supposed to rest, but I won't.”

Elizabeth Warner concurred (T-98) with the suggestion that “American foreign policy should be based around the principle of climate change,” and then segued into a series of regulatory goals, e.g., eliminate all carbon emissions from new buildings by 2028, from cars by 2030, and from the generation of electric power by 2035. And to clear the way for such changes, let’s deal with the corruption in Washington (politicians who are paying more attention to money than to our future).

Kamala Harris chimed in (T-98 & 99) that climate change was an existential threat, she was scared for the future of two baby nieces, and Republicans had children too so they must be suffering from a lack of courage. This was a problem that had been created by human behaviors, so it could be solved by changing human behaviors, and as AG in California she had demonstrated her ability to do just that.

To stop losing to the fossil fuel companies, said Andrew Yang (T-99 & 100), let’s override special interest money with people-powered money. “My proposal is that we give every American 100 ‘Democracy Dollars’ that you can only give to candidates and causes that you like. This would wash out the lobbyist cash by a factor of eight to one.”

In sum, all ten candidates brought up the global warming issue or talked about it when invited to do so. Most of them dutifully toed the party line by calling the warming trend a crisis or existential threat and outlining ambitious plans to deal with it. No one quibbled about the details, or muddied the waters by proposing more widespread use of nuclear power. For climate hawks, it was a pretty good night.


#My sentiments exactly. – SAFE director

#Indoctrination is the right word . . . The issue behind it is what SAFE should be talking about these days... I have little hope that we'll ever be financially responsible as a country. – SAFE member (DE)

#I agree about the urgency of the fiscal problem and how drastic it is -- but it seems that you still have your head in the sand over the climate change issue. If this nation were to mobilize to address some of the things that cut carbon emissions, it could stimulate the economy providing jobs, profits and tax revenues. – Retired finance manager

Comment: Sorry, but we’d like to see some proof of the manmade global warming theory – which has been sorely lacking thus far - before supporting multi-trillion dollar programs to address it. Even if the theory eventually proves out, moreover, our bet would be on nuclear power or some as yet unimagined technology to address it – not wind and solar power.

#You are 100% right! I doubt that even most Democrats will buy an unseen and irrelevant "global warming" when there is a $23 TRILLION DEBT and a $1 trillion yearly budget deficit staring us all in the face. If Trump had some real innovative know-how, he would appoint Bill Clinton as special fiscal Counsel on the budget. At least it's worth a try. – SAFE member (GA)

#I know the budget was balanced under Clinton years ago but obviously lots of changes have occurred since then. One thought......Let’s get all of these “homeless” people off the streets and put them to work. No freebies. Put them to work on infrastructure (or whatever makes the most sense) which we desperately are in need of. So much “free” money goes out with no return. In other words “entitlements”. not ruin SS or Medicare. - Retired finance manager

SAFE's starting point is not to offer a preconceived solution, although we do have some ideas, it is to ask the presidential candidates to offer their respective plans and let the voters decide. That being said, shrinking welfare payments would definitely be a good idea - and fixes to SS or Medicare should be focused primarily on future participants vs. penalizing people who have relied on promises made and can't very well go back and make other arrangements.

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