Data show Obama should flex – and augment – his environmental bona fides in tonight’s DNC acceptance speech

ingressimage_obama_campaign.jpg Photo: Whitehouse.gov

So say reams of data polled from US voters, particularly a Yale University study conducted in August whose results were published in this week in the National Journal.

“Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened – it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale, one of the researchers who commissioned the new poll told the New York Times.

“People are starting to connect the dots.”

Other polls by Gallup suggest that an overwhelming 80 percent of Americans support government initiatives for higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles.

A June survey conducted by UT Energy Poll found that 70 percent of respondents think the climate is changing, compared with 65 percent in a similar poll in March, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

And a July-August poll conducted by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation found that 74 percent of respondents think the federal government should regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming

The climate is clearly an election year issue. So why isn’t Obama cashing in?

To collect that cash, democratic strategist and president of Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions Betsy Taylor told the National Journal that Obama has to address the climate or risk losing a large portion of his campaign donor base.

Renewing his stance in the battle to fight climate change is also critical as a tactical move that voters want to see: Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican challenger for the Oval Office, heckled Obama’s climate policy in his acceptance speech at last week’s Republican National Convention, saying: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

Romney’s sneering biting of his lip as seen on television when he uttered the words “to heal the planet” create the impression that he does not take the issue seriously at all.

This, argue some democratic strategists prior to his speech tonight, is precisely the kind of jeering derision that Obama can pave over by citing the hard science.

Yet Obama – possibly cowed by less than 50 percent job approval ratings, continued domestic economic miseries, fallen housing values and ever widening American economic disparity – has remained nearly silent on both the science and the political cache of global warming during 2012, certainly when compared to his vigorous stumping for bilateral and world cooperation on climate difficulties in 2008.

In an election race that promises be heavily focused on economic issues, Obama’s green promises of days past are painted by Romney as job killing efforts  – a mocking attack that has left Obama looking impotent and numb.

But speak on those issues tonight he must, and speak forcefully, specifically, and with some of that old vigor voters remember from 2008.

Fully 55 percent of voters from both sides of the divide will consider the candidates’ views on global warming when deciding how to vote, the Yale poll revealed, as published in the National Journal.

More surprisingly, 88 percent of voters support US action on climate change even if it has economic costs. So much for Romney’s implication last week that Americans are tired of being asked to spare a dime for the environment.

The Yale survey also found that 84 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independent voters, and 67 percent of Republicans support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, reported the magazine.

The poll concluded that being “pro-climate” wins votes among Democrats and independents, and has little negative impact with Republican voters.

The Yale poll is not the only one saying this: After suffering though a blistering summer during which 2,284 all-time high temperature records fell, according to the National Climatic Data Center, other polls reveal that most Americans believe global temperatures are rising and that weather patterns are becoming more unstable and unpredictable – the hallmarks of climate change.

In data released May, the Gallup identified 80 percent of all voters support for higher fuel efficiency standards, such as those proposed by Obama that same month. The same poll remarked that 68 percent of Americans said they would vote for a candidate who supported raising fuel mileage standards on vehicles.

What can Obama do to improve his climate case?

In the opinion of many analysts, Obama can make strides toward voters hearts by digging into the actual science of climate change, while at the same time showing up Romney’s own wavering stance on the issues.

According to Washington Post Climate blogger Jason Samenow, Obama has passed up opportunity after opportunity to discuss climate change science, including during his last State of the Union address.

Further, the official Democratic National Platform, which was adopted Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention was sparse in its mention of science in its discussion of climate policy, calling climate change “one of the biggest threats of this generation” and saying it “affirm[s] the science of climate change” – without citing the specific risks climate change poses.

The overall impression left by this in the minds of voters is that Obama has paid lip service to the threat of climate change, but has yet to use his unique position to lay out the scientific case in a high-profile setting. His drive by appearance at the COP 15 UN climate summit in Copenhagen – which hoped ambitiously to commit UN nations to a legally binding emissions reduction document – in 2009 is an example.

To snag that 55 of voters in the Yale poll who see climate change as a campaign issues, Obama must present the hard facts.

The Obama camp has also failed to successfully exploit Romney’s on again, off again approach to climate change. 

Romney’s own snide remarks against Obama’s 2008 embrace of solving climate change belie the fact that Romney himself has stumped on the climate change issue – and raised the issue of the science behind it. 

As recently as June 2011, Romney was telling voters in New Hampshire that “the world’s getting warmer,” that “I believe that humans contribute,” and that “I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases,” noted Brad Plummer on the Washington Post’s WonkBlog.

On the website ScienceDebate.org, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and other scientific organizations, Romney went even further in his response to 14 science issues the website put to the two candidates, writing: “I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.”

One point of attack for Obama would be to point out the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) data that the science is not, in fact, equivocal, and that the world is getting warmer faster than human mitigation efforts can compete with.

Only days before making his September 5 remarks to the Sciencedebate.org website, however, Romney was, according to the Washington Post, busy telling another crowd in New Hampshire that “I don’t know if [rising temperatures are] mostly caused by humans,” adding, “What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to.”

What is clear from polls and analysts is that American voters want to here something substantial about climate change. Putting hard questions to the candidates about it and getting a bead on their positions will not come until the presidential debates begin next month.

But, as the data show, Obama would do well to give himself an early start when he delivers his acceptance speech for his nomination for a second term as president tonight – lest the environmental vote he once had slips through his fingers.

Charles Digges