COMING TO A TELEVISION NEAR YOU: Environmental groups take aim at upcoming greenhouse gas emissions debates in a series of multi-million dollar advertising campaigns. Image: ISTOCKPHOTO/GONCHAROVROMAN
With Congress preparing to debate climate legislation, environmentalists and their allies are spending millions on ad campaigns aimed at building public support for a cap-and-trade bill and scoring early political points.
While campaign-style advertising on legislative issues is nothing new, the ad buys are coming weeks before either chamber is likely to move a comprehensive bill to the floor. Both proponents and critics of the climate measure say the early ad blitz indicates that environmentalists know they have their work cut out for them in convincing the public and lawmakers to buy into the capping and trading of greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmentalists say a solid majority of voters is on their side and strongly favors not only a strong move toward renewable energy but also implementation of mandatory cap on carbon emissions. That is backed by recent polling that shows no reduction in public support for addressing climate change.
The ads are airing, environmentalists say, because they want to move early in light of what they see as a unique opportunity to move the legislation this year.
"This is real this time. Unlike last year, we have quick, comprehensive movement in the House, we have senators digging into the issues, and we have a White House that is asking with the cap on carbon," said Tony Kreindler of the Environmental Defense Fund. "It is go time right now."
The Environmental Defense Fund started airing its ads more than a week ago, and Kreindler said he believes the message – that climate change legislation can create jobs – has begun to be accepted by the American public, particularly in manufacturing areas hit hard by a severe recession.
"I don't think there's any question that folks have come to understand that these jobs are real," he said. "People see it, it isn't make-belief."
But polls that show steady public support for climate change also show that concerns about the economy far exceed those about the environment. Climate change, in particular, continues to place relatively far down in the polls on the list of issues of greatest importance.
A Gallup survey released last month showed that for the first time in the 25-year history of the poll, the majority of the public believed the economy should be given priority over environmental protection, even if the environment were to suffer to some extent. Just two years ago, 55 percent said they believed environmental issues should be given priority over the economy, while 37 percent said the economy should take precedence.
Today, support for the environment dropped to a record low of 42 percent, while support for economic growth reached a record high of 51 percent, according to Gallup. The poll of 1,012 adults conducted last month had an error margin of 3 percent.
"I definitely think that we are seeing heightened sensitivity to the economy side of the economy-environment tradeoff," said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, adding that a number of other polls have shown a slight downward movement in numbers of people who list climate or the environment as a top priority.
"I don't think there's any way to explain that, other than people increasingly believing that the government's top priority should be on the economy."