Paper: Environmentalists to blame for climate change inaction

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

A Harvard academic paper argues that environmental groups are to blame for the United States’ inaction in combating climate change, saying that those groups underestimated Republican opposition.

Harvard scholar Theda Skocpol argues that environmental groups presumed that they could get what they wanted by cutting insider deals with Republican lawmakers.

However, environmentalists failed to realize the polarization of Congress and receding support for environmental causes among Republicans, which began in 2007, according to the paper. Also, activists overlooked growing opposition among conservatives outside of  Washington — which Skocpol says was aided by funding from conservative think tanks that challenged climate change.

Skopcol also argues that it is unlikely President Barack Obama will make climate change a top priority during his second term.

Environmental activists at the US Climate Action Partnership, which Skocpol writes about, overlooked this shift in public opinion and failed to build the broad grassroots support for action on climate change.

“The USCAP campaign was designed and conducted in an insider-grand-bargaining political style that, unbeknownst to its sponsors, was unlikely to succeed given fast-changing realities in US partisan politics and governing institutions,” she writes.

According to Skocpol, a climate change deal may have been possible in the 1990s, but by 2008 a climate deal was a political nonstarter — especially as the number of reports and books challenging climate change began to circulate in mainstream media outlets.

The rise of the tea party in 2010 made a climate deal all but impossible, as Republicans who once were willing to compromise on environmental issues were ousted in elections by more conservative candidates.

However, Skocpol has some advice for environmental activists going forward.

“Climate change warriors will have to look beyond elite manoeuvres and find ways to address the values and interests of tens and millions of US citizens,” she writes. “The only way to counter such right wing elite and popular forces is to build a broad popular movement to tackle climate change.”

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