Plenty of Americans, especially on the right, think climate change is a sham meant to enrich researchers and provide an excuse for bigger, more intrusive government. A recent Gallup poll found that just 34% of adults said they worried “a great deal” about global warming. That’s down from a peak of 41% in 2007. The Great Recession no doubt has played a role. But Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute think climate change activists are blowing it by (a) trying to scare up support by linking natural disasters to global warming, and (b) rejecting nuclear energy and natural gas as alternative, low-carbon energy sources. From their New York Times op-ed:
What works, say environmental pollsters and researchers, is focusing on popular solutions. Climate advocates often do this, arguing that solar and wind can reduce emissions while strengthening the economy. But when renewable energy technologies are offered as solutions to the exclusion of other low-carbon alternatives, they polarize rather than unite. One recent study, published by Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project, found that conservatives become less skeptical about global warming if they first read articles suggesting nuclear energy or geoengineering as solutions. Another study, in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2012, concluded that “communication should focus on how mitigation efforts can promote a better society” rather than “on the reality of climate change and averting its risks.”
Nonetheless, virtually every major national environmental organization continues to reject nuclear energy, even after four leading climate scientists wrote them an open letter last fall, imploring them to embrace the technology as a key climate solution. Together with catastrophic rhetoric, the rejection of technologies like nuclear and natural gas by environmental groups is most likely feeding the perception among many that climate change is being exaggerated. After all, if climate change is a planetary emergency, why take nuclear and natural gas off the table?
A 2013 Breakthrough Institute report offers a number of suggestions for government policy on nuclear, including more R&D on advanced reactor designs and licensing reform. Also, here is a post from last year on why the GOP needs to step up its game on climate change.