It’s long been a source of frustration for environmentalists that expressions of rank climate denialism are not anywhere near as politically toxic as crazy comments about abortion, birth control, or immigration have historically proven. Climate denialism does not meet the widespread condemnation that greets the sort of statements on immigration and abortion you hear from the likes of Steve King or Todd Akin (who lost his Senate race as a result).
Environmentalists are engaged in a long-term campaign to change that.
Case in point: The League of Conservation Voters is investing real money — $2 million — in a TV ad campaign targeting a handful of Republican lawmakers for their climate denialism.
Here is a first look at the ad targeting Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin over his outsized comments about climate change:
The spot invokes extreme weather, natural disasters, and the climate-change consensus among civilian and NASA scientists, and rips Senator Johnson as a “climate change denier” who won’t act to prevent the continued “spewing” of “carbon pollution into our air.”
The League of Conservation Voters’ current campaign is also targeting three GOP Congressmen: Reps. Dan Benishek of Michigan, Rodney Davis of Illinois, and Mike Coffman of Colorado. In the last cycle, the group spent another $3 million on electoral ads targeting what it called the “Flat Earth Five” — a group of Republican Members of Congress who also deny climate change.
What’s particularly interesting about the targeting of Johnson is that the Senator isn’t up for reelection until 2016, which is to say this isn’t about electoral politics. Environmentalists are aware that Johnson is unlikely to pay any immediate political price for his climate denialism. Indeed, Johnson is currently brandishing LCV’s attacks on him as a kind of Tea Party badge of honor, citing them in a fundraising appeal that calls for donations to fight back against “an extreme left group on an environmental jihad.”
But environmentalists see this as a long game. (To underscore the point, the LCV recently released polling that shows climate change is a pressing issue among young voters in particular.) Right now, the prospects for Congressional action on climate are bleak, and the only hope for action probably rests on whatever Obama can do via executive authority. In the near term, environmentalists and Democrats have no choice but to do whatever they can to generate media discussion of the climate issue, which has historically been hard to generate. Obama’s political arm, Organizing for Action, is also targeting climate deniers in Congress, and as Steve Benen notes, the real goal here is to use this as something for progressives to organize around. (Obama himself recently tweeted: “Gravity exists. The Earth is round. Change is happening.”)
Attacks on Republican officials over climate change are part of a long term strategy, an effort to bait them into high profile exchanges over the issue that will likely command media coverage. Making elected officials pay a steep political price for climate denialism may seem like a long way off, but perhaps environmentalists can muscle the issue into the political discussion.
UPDATE: My Post colleague Nia- Malika Henderson did an interesting PostTV segment today on how Obama will approach climate change in his second term. Check it out.