April 2, 2013

Media Matters has noticed something important: Climate was almost completely absent on the national broadcast network news last year. Only twelve stories, combined, on the CBS, ABC, and NBC news shows, were devoted to the topic — which certainly has a legitimate claim as the single most important policy problem facing the United States right now.

There’s nothing at all wrong with the response that Media Matters is urging, which is for people to write the networks and demand more coverage. However, the real way to get the networks talking climate is to get the political parties and their politicians to talk about it — and especially the president. The evidence is pretty strong that presidents can’t change voters’ minds very well, but they can definitely change what voters think about. That’s because if the president talks about something, the press will cover it.

And politicians, the president included, will talk about things which their parties — including party activists — tell them are high priorities. So the way to get results here is to press politicians to talk about climate change. In particular, activists could make clear to candidates seeking Democratic nominations in 2014 (when candidates are particularly responsive to party pressure) that detailed, vocal positions on climate are a top priority.

Of course, the other part of the problem here is the Republican Party. According to a new poll from automated Public Policy Polling), most Republican voters think that climate change is a hoax. GOP elected officials are increasingly divided between two factions: those who explicitly deny the scientific consensus on climate, and those who effectively do the same because they offer no policy answer, or even policy suggestions, to deal with it. (The latter enables the former.) This is also a good example of what Steve Benen has been calling the “post-policy” Republican Party, “just positioning [themselves] vis-a-vis the president, choosing not to be invested in any particular outcome for [their] own constituents, whose interests [they're] ostensibly supposed to care about.”

Indeed: the people who really could make a difference, perhaps, are reality-based Republicans — that’s a quarter of all Republicans on this issue, according to PPP. If they pressed Republican candidates to not only speak out but to also formulate real (and real conservative) policies on climate, they might be able to push the GOP effectively.

At any rate, it certainly seems likely that before long we’ll be looking back with disbelief that not only did one political party refuse any action at all on climate, but that the news media often ignored the whole thing. Activism can help, and the most effective activism on this is probably pressure within the political parties. If Obama talked about climate change more, it would at least raise the issue in the minds of Democrats and even perhaps the reality-based Republicans — and result in more media and public attention to an issue that has been shockingly overlooked.