Friday, April 22, 2011

Nisbet/Romm/Mooney/Prop 23

So, Matt Nisbet, kind of contrarian/kind of gets a lot of people riled up at him as he tells people how to be persuasive, has some paper claiming that the climate hawks failed at passing a climate bill last year despite having a financial edge on rejectionists and a reasonably accurate media portrayal of the science.

Joe Romm, given advance warning by a third party, breaks the news embargo to blister the work. Joe broke the embargo partly because he thought someone else had, but more interestingly because he felt Nisbet was deceptive and wanted his critique available when people read Nisbet's stuff. I'm still mulling that one over, but I think it's okay (he shouldn't have posted Nisbet's full document though).

Joe says Nisbet's deceptive in that Nisbet compares total lobbying across all sectors between business allies of cap and trade and business opponents (and each side's nonprofit allies). Nominally pro-cap-and-trade businesses are unlikely to have spent much of their lobbying budget on this issue. Joe could've strengthened his point by noting that the same issue applies to business opponents of caps, but not as strongly since the fossil fuel corps are highly motivated to throw money at this issue. He also backs this up with a second post showing fossil fuel industry far outspent alternative energy industry in political donations.

Nisbet could've had a decent point that it's not as much as enviros versus monolithic corporate world as it was in the past, given the large portion of the business world that's willing to live with the climate hawk position. But we already knew that.

Joe's other major critique was that Nisbet omits television when he says the media is now accurate about climate change, when Fox News' internal messaging has been to dispute reality. Seems like another legitimate point.

Chris Mooney also jumped in with a pointed defense of his own work showing the Bush Republicans were at war with science and arguing that Nisbet displayed inappropriate false bias about the level of Bushian interference with science. Interesting in that Mooney used to work closely with Nisbet. Nisbet also appears in the comments for a little while, also kind of interesting.

The failed denialist attempt to use Prop 23 to kill California's work on climate also came up, because reality outspent denial on that issue. I think Nisbet might miss three points: 1. good guys won, so are they really as incompetent as he thinks? 2. the big money won, so who has the big money is also important, and 3. most ignored is that the bad guys knew they were going to lose more than a month before the election, and without having seen the campaign expenditures, I'll bet they cut their losses. The bad guys also had a decent backup strategy in the form of the simultaneous Prop 26, keeping polluters from having to pay for the environmental effect of their nonsense. Prop 26 won, and polluters outspent good guys by 3 to 1. We need to watch that strategy harder, and use it ourselves.

Bottom line is that the bad guys are fighting defense in the Senate, and they only need two fifths of the Senate to stop action. Nisbet apparently thinks we can't do a frontal assault at all, and falls back to the research-and-adaptation-only-nonsense. I don't think he's made his point.


  1. Nisbet's response is here.

    You don't think it's a little dishonest to pretend that *all* the political spending of the gas and oil industry had to do with climate change? Companies like Exxon have to protect a vast industry that relies on access to physical resources from *all* the barnacles politicians would like to add to their operations. There are hundreds of issues in play - offshore drilling regulations, drilling in protected areas, continued access to oil and gas pipelines, waste regulations, tax treatment on every aspect of the business... If the climate change issue didn't exist, these companies would still be spending a vast amount on lobbying, right?

  2. I think the fossil fuel industry is fighting to be free to harm many aspects of our environment, not just climate, and so much/most of their lobbying will be directed to other harmful activities.

    Still, I expect they're spending a higher percent of their lobbying fighting climate regulation than the banking industry is fighting for regulation.

    Comparing their lobbying and donations to alternative energy is a better comparison.

  3. Nisbet also misses the significance of the wider political context operating nationally as contrasted to California. In CA, there was a reaction against the national Republican wave, and that benefited the anti-23 campaign.

    Re the Prop 26 failure, IMHO it's evidence of complacency on the part of enviro group staff and will continue until some of them lose their jobs over it. Until then, defense of the status quo will remain the order of the day.

  4. That's a good point about California resisting the Republican national wave. It's not entirely clear why that's the case, other than that the Republican Party in California is particularly incompetent.

    A lot of us dropped the ball on Prop 26 - we fought too hard against 23 and didn't pivot quickly enough.


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