Obama’s recent climate speech is important. Not just because the juggernaut of US Government may at last be seriously rolling forward on climate but because he has a new ‘narrative’, to use a much over-worked term.
When he was a Presidential Candidate, G W Bush pledged to cut carbon dioxide pollution. Numerous qualitative research studies have shown that Americans (especially Republicans) are more likely to support ‘cutting pollution’ than ‘action on climate change’ . It’s because of framing, past polarisation, identity, beliefs and the consistency effect.
Some good analyses have been written of Obama’s speech (for example Gareth Kane) and Americans have naturally tended to focus on what happens to the Keystone Pipeline but for me what is more important is that Obama has (or his team have) framed the problem as about ‘Carbon Pollution’. It’s no accident: he used the term 30 times in that speech. And the more anyone denounces it, the more they use a framing that once hooked G W Bush into pledging climate action, before someone, or something, got to him and as President, he reneged.
If Obama’s speech works and he gets some practical measures through the US political system, expect to hear a lot more people, especially politicians, following his lead. He stands a reasonable chance because he put forward a set of measures which are largely inside the envelope of his powers, rather than requiring a major change of heart in Congress.
And taking off that jacket – no accident surely. When Jim Hansen’s testified to Congress on 23 June 1988 and announced human made climate change had pretty much arrived, the temperature outside hit 37.C. His message literally felt credible. In 2013 Obama gave his speech, again in Washington DC, on a day the temperature hit an almost-as-sweltering 34.C. The pictures tell the story. The jacket comes off, the President mops his brow. Time to cool it.