At the New Republic, associate editor Brad Plumer has penned a very useful reflection on the Climate Shift report, elevating into focus a range of arguments and considerations that have not been given much attention since the failure of cap and trade legislation last year.
Plumer calls the report a “a fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism over the past few years, and he raises a lot of probing questions.” He discusses the range of arguments for a deeper reconsideration of the problem that have been given little attention in the face of the dominant narrative that money and deniers remain at the root of inaction. And he accurately discusses the report’s findings relative to spending and media coverage.
Here are a few things I would add to his discussion or specific responses to his thoughts.
1) Plumer elaborates on some other considerations worthy of notice in thinking about the failure of cap and trade, including timing and just plain unluckiness. In the opening to Chapter 1 of the report, I am clear to note these other factors before moving on to do a careful and complex analysis of spending, the factor that most people have focused on to date. In the introduction to the chapter, I note a major study on lobbying by political scientists, that finds that spending is only one factor among many shaping legislative outcomes and there is no consistent relationship between resource-advantaged versus resource-disadvantaged coalitions having an upper hand in winning Congressional battles. Instead the influence of spending interacts with a number of other variables.
As I write of cap and trade specifically: “the continued economic recession, the heavy focus on the health care debate, a perceived lack of leadership by the White House and decisions by key leaders in the Senate all are presumed to have shaped the legislative outcome.
2) Plumer cites blogger Joe Romm’s assertion that the report over-estimates on the contribution of BP to lobbying expenditures. To be clear, this is an deep mischaracterization by Romm of the analysis in the chapter, one of many tactics to undermine and suppressive substantive reflection on the report through distortion and intimidation. The section on lobbying is very clear and careful in describing the uncertainties in understanding spending in this area. No place is this clearer than the conclusion to the section on lobbying.
With the exception of the figures for the environmental groups, this comparison of lobbying expenditures across coalitions should not be interpreted as reflecting the actual amounts spent on cap and trade legislation. Instead, in the aggregate, these totals are representative of the capacity for power and influence that each side could apply in 2009. Through their work building coalitions and alliances, the environmental groups were able to forge a network of organizations that spent a combined $229 million on lobbying across all issues. In comparison, the network of prominent opponents of cap and trade legislation spent $272 million lobbying across all issues. These figures represent a dramatically reduced power difference compared with past legislative debates over climate change.
3) Plumer notes that the report does not address cable news and blogs. In any study, there is a limited scope of data that can be collected and analyzed. The five news organizations were chosen because of their large size and influential audience, their agenda-setting influence across media, and because of their target as a place that advocates on both sides of the issue try to influence.
In Chapter 3, I also note, that the findings from the Wall Street Journal page are consistent with a recent study on the portrayal of climate change at News Corp owned media outlets internationally including Fox News.
I also note that additional analysis should examine broadcast news and blogs. And I discuss that I looked at just one dimension of false balance, focusing specifically on how the reality and causes of climate change are portrayed (consistent with the oft-cited past studies by Boykoff.)
In Chapter 4, I discuss a study by my colleague Lauren Feldman at American that found that Fox News, not surprisingly, features a stronger proportion of dismissive assertions about climate change than MSNBC or CNN.
It’s indisputable that Fox News engages in dismissive coverage of climate change. Yet, in both chapters, I note that conservative media such as Fox have a tendency to have a limited, reinforcing influence on public opinion, as shown by extensive research in political communication generally and the few studies available on climate change. See this section.