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Senate Dems Seek Guidance on Climate Messaging from Republicans

The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis gets advice on how to better communicate about climate change with conservatives.

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The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis invited a trio of Republicans to testify at a 25 July hearing to discuss how to better communicate with conservatives and religious communities about climate change and how to make climate action a bipartisan effort, according to committee chair Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“Today we continue to build the case that climate action is doable and not the exclusive domain of progressives. But right now, Democrats don’t have a dance partner when it comes to climate action in the United States,” Schatz said. “There is a space [in which] to be a conservative and do something about climate change.” Schatz added that he sees growing momentum for action among Republicans.

He cited a May 2019 survey of 1,000 voters nationwide by Luntz Global Partners LLC that found that 69% of Republican voters are worried that their party’s stance on climate change is hurting them with young voters. The survey also revealed that four out of five of all voters surveyed, including three out of four Republicans surveyed, want Congress to reach a bipartisan solution to address climate change and that a carbon dividends plan that would return the income from proposed carbon fees to citizens has majority support across party lines.

Advice from a Republican Pollster

At the hearing, Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and strategist who founded Luntz Global but left the firm 18 months ago, said that he agreed with the survey’s results.

“So where does that leave us?” asked Luntz, who is the founder and CEO of FIL Inc. “Climate change has become a partisan issue, and if we are to make a meaningful, measurable difference, we have to come up with meaningful, measurable, nonpartisan solutions. We also need to jettison much of the most extreme language in favor of a get-it-done approach.”

Luntz, who in the past reportedly advised the George W. Bush administration to use the phrase “climate change” instead of “global warming,” advocated at the hearing for more upbeat messaging that suggests to people that they can do something about the problem. He said, for instance, that the phrases “ending global warming” and “security” should be tossed in favor of “solving climate change” and “peace of mind,” and that talk of threats and problems should be replaced by talking about consequences.

“The American people want to know the positive of this, not just the negative, not just the fear. They want to know the benefit of focusing” on climate change, Luntz said. His strategy, he said, is to give people “a piece of the negative” wrapped in the positive and make a call to action. “I promise you [that] across the aisle, across the age groups, it works.”

Even if scientists are wrong about climate change, Luntz said, “if we do this right, we get cleaner air, we get less dependence on foreign fuels and enhance national security, we get more innovation in our economy and more jobs, and [we] create new careers.” On the other hand, “if the scientists are right, we get all of those things and begin to solve what could be the most catastrophic environmental problem that any of us have ever faced. It’s a pretty good bet to me, because it’s a no-regrets strategy.”

A Call for Working Together on the Issue

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) signs pollster Frank Luntz’s “Words To Use & Lose” poster after the hearing.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) signs pollster Frank Luntz’s “Words To Use & Lose” poster after the hearing. Credit: Randy Showstack

Kiera O’Brien, vice president of Students for Carbon Dividends and a Harvard senior who is the former president of the Harvard Republican Club, said that climate instability is of great concern to young conservatives and that acting on climate change is both good policy and good politics. She said that partisan bickering and an unwillingness to compromise on both sides of the aisle have led to the failure to act on climate change.

“As Republicans, we have not yet managed to achieve a balance between acknowledging climate instability and resolving how to address it,” she said. However, as more Republicans “come to the table to discuss meaningful solutions, so too must Democrats meet them with a willingness to work together.”

“I implore all members of Congress to place the best interests of the country over partisan politics when considering climate legislation,” she said.

Nick Huey, a Republican who founded a project called the Climate Campaign to convince Republicans and Democrats that climate change is a bipartisan issue, called for the parties to soften their language, “strip away partisan pride and greed,” and work together. “We may be from different parties, but we’re all from the same planet,” Huey said.

Committee member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said that “there is a lot of willingness on the Democratic side to accept what has heretofore been the Republican solution” of putting a price on carbon. In April, Whitehouse, Schatz, and others introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act as an attempt to achieve this solution.

“The fundamental tenets of a successful legislative solution to this problem exist and are bipartisan,” Whitehouse said. He implored the Republican witnesses at the hearing to keep speaking out about climate change. “Hearing it from inside the Republican Party makes such a big difference,” he said, adding that he’s optimistic about making progress on climate change.

So is Schatz. “There’s growing momentum among Republicans for climate action,” he told Eos after the hearing. “The political dam is about to overflow. Although we have only got a few [Republican] partners in the United States Senate, Republican voters, business leaders, [and] Republican strategists are demanding action, and that movement is real and it’s building.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Senate Dems seek guidance on climate messaging from Republicans , Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO129899. Published on 26 July 2019.
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