What the hell went wrong? For months now, environmentalists have been asking themselves that question, and it’s easy to see why. After Barack Obama vaulted into the White House in 2008, it really did look like the United States was, at long last, going to do something about global warming. Scientists were united on the causes and perils of climate change. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth had stoked public concern. Green groups in D.C. had rallied around a consensus solution—a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions—and had garnered support from a few major companies like BP and Duke Energy. Both Obama and his opponent, John McCain, were on board. And, so, environmental advocates prepared a frontal assault on Congress. May as well order the victory confetti, right?
Instead, the climate push was … a total flop. By late 2010, the main cap-and-trade bill had fizzled out in the Senate; not a single Republican would agree to vote for it. Greens ended up winning zilch from Congress, not even minor legislation to boost renewable electricity or energy efficiency. Worse, after the 2010 midterms, the House GOP became overrun with climate deniers, while voters turned apathetic about global warming. All those flashy eco-ads and all that tireless eco-lobbying only got us even further from solving climate change than we were in 2008.
So now greens are in the post-mortem stage, and, not shockingly, it’s a sensitive subject. On Tuesday, Matthew Nisbet, a communications professor at American University, released a hefty 84-page report trying to figure out why climate activism flopped so miserably in the past few years. Nisbet’s report is already causing controversy: Among other things, he argues that, contrary to popular belief, greens weren’t badly outspent by industry groups and that media coverage of climate science wasn’t really a problem. And he raises questions about whether greens have been backing the wrong policy measures all along. Is he right? Have environmentalists been fundamentally misguided all this while? Or were they just unlucky?
I'm not sure I'd agree with all of Plummer's conclusions and he says little about the elephant in the room regarding green policies: At some point it was obvious to the general public that cap and trade and other environmental policies would cause rather severe economic damage. Nonetheless, it's a pretty compelling read.