For decades, those who care passionately about climate change have faced an uphill battle convincing others who don’t already agree with them to come around. People tend to be fairly entrenched in their views, especially in today’s polarized climate, so swaying people is never easy. Now though, according to MIT Technology Review, one organization believes it’s found a way.
The Niskanen Center is a libertarian-leaning Washington think tank, founded in 2014 by Jerry Taylor. Interestingly, Taylor spent years at the Cato Institute as a professional climate denier, but he’s since come around. He now makes it his mission to convince others into following in his footsteps. The trick, as Taylor and other experts close to him see it, is rephrasing the argument in terms that even staunch conservatives will understand.
“Positions on climate change have become symbols of whose side you are on in a cultural conflict divorced from science,” Yale professor Dan Kahan said.
Added Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina: “We think it takes having conservatives hear solutions in the language of conservatism.”
This may mean putting climate issues in economic terms, discussing how much wealth people and their corporations stand to lose if the planet keeps trending downhill.
Climate change has become a more politically polarized issue over the last generation or so. Gallup polling revealed that in the late 1980s, almost 70 percent of Americans had “a similarly high level of concern” about global warming, and that was true across the political spectrum. Now, there’s a clear divide. Gallup says in 2018 that 70 percent of Republicans see climate issues as “generally exaggerated,” while 67 percent of Democrats see them as a “serious threat.”
The Niskanen Center’s approach is three-fold. Step one is to pick the right targets—swaying conservative Americans by first getting through to individual thought leaders who can help swing public opinion. Step two is to depoliticize the issue—meaning rather than label Democrats and Republicans as for climate science and against it, instead frame the issue as bipartisan and beneficial to everyone.
Finally, Taylor believes, the key is to choose the right policies, fighting for legislation such as carbon taxes that can gain broad support. While this method isn’t guaranteed to work on everyone, the hope is that incremental changes will bring us closer to a climate consensus in the years ahead.