Tuesday, February 02, 2021
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President Biden has wasted no time in turning his campaign promise to take on the climate challenge into action. He issued a series of consequential executive orders in the first week of his presidency, punctuated by declaring one of the first days of his administration “Climate Day” at the White House. Among the executive orders the new president signed are rejoining the Paris Global Climate Agreement and scheduling an Earth Day Summit of world leaders to reassert American leadership, affirming our steadfast commitment to sufficiently curbing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst consequences of global warming; establishing a Civilian Climate Corps; cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline; establishing a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy; ordering a stop to new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters; and leveraging the purchasing power of the federal government by requiring federal agencies to purchase electric cars and renewable energy.
As Biden expands on these initial steps and seeks adoption of legislation aimed at accelerating the transition to non-carbon producing renewable energy, he will be aided by a far more receptive political environment and public than the one he faced as part of the Obama Administration, when it attempted to pass cap and trade legislation, putting a price on carbon, more than ten years ago. General Motors recent announcement that it is committed to making its entire fleet electric by 2035 is a case in point. The lobbying power of the oil and gas industry will now be countered by a growing, job-creating and strong renewable energy industry with many other industry groups now backing strong action on the climate or staying on the sidelines.
Additionally, as Biden accurately noted in his Climate Day remarks, “the attitude of the American people toward greater impetus on focusing on climate change and doing something about it has increased across the board — Democrat, Republican, independent.” Two-out-of-three registered voters say “developing sources of clean energy should be a high or very high priority for the president and congress” and more than half say global warming should be high or very high priority, according to a recent Yale University and George Mason University Centers on Climate Change Communication poll. Similarly, 3-in–4 registered voters “support US participation in the Paris Climate Agreement” and nearly 4-in-5 “support the president hosting a meeting of the leaders of large industrialized nations to urge them to do more to reduce global warming.” Perhaps most telling, nearly 2-in-3 say that the “U.S. should reduce greenhouse emissions regardless of what other countries do.”
Individual domestic actions likely to be advanced by the Biden Administration that contribute to reducing carbon emissions are very popular as well. At least 4-in-5 registered voters, for example, support “setting stronger energy efficiency standards for new buildings,” “providing federal funding to help farmers improve farming practices to protect and restore the soil so it absorbs and stores more carbon,” and “providing tax rebates to people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels.”
The sub-set of the public that is more engaged on climate change, either in support of action or against it, and as a result more likely to be directly involved in contacting members of Congress has shifted even more strongly in a more pro climate change action direction. There are now about 4 times as many Americans that are “alarmed” by climate change and its consequences as ones that dismiss the science, (26% to 7% respectively), according to the Yale Center on Climate Communication. This contrasts to a one-to-one ratio, 11% apiece, in 2014. “It indicates a massive shift in our political, social, and cultural understanding of climate change,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication, said.
To be sure, there is still strong resistance to sweeping action on climate change from conservative Republicans and tough battles in Congress lie ahead. But the political soil is far more fertile than it was the last time a presidential administration attempted major legislation on the climate.
As Biden remarked last week and demonstrated by his initial actions, he strongly believes that on the climate, “This is not — it’s not time for small measures; we need to be bold.” This time he will have the political wind at his back.
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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, businesses, and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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