Washington Post-ABC Poll re Obama and Climate Change

This Washington Post article sums up pretty well, I think, the results of the ABC-WP opinion poll looking at American views of climate change, science and scientists involved in climatology, Copenhagen, President Obama’s role and that of the administration, and the idea of spending US tax money on the climate change fund.  The President’s

approval rating on dealing with global warming has crumbled at home and there is broad opposition to spending taxpayer money to encourage developing nations to curtail their energy use …  There’s also rising public doubt and growing political polarization about what scientists have to say on the environment, and a widespread perception that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether global warming is happening.

But for all the challenges American policymakers have to overcome, nearly two-thirds of people surveyed say the federal government should regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to curb global warming … Most, however, oppose a widely floated proposal in which the United States and other industrialized countries would contribute $10 billion a year to help developing countries pay for reducing the amount of greenhouse gases they release.

Anecdotally, my sense is that’s about right in assessing where American opinion stands at this moment.  The graphic presentation of the poll results is very interesting in addition to the narrative article.

I suspect that American public skepticism is going to grow, about the science and the scientists of climatology, as well as the policy, following Copenhagen.  My uninformed guess, just as a description, is that it will be seen less as climate and more about an open-ended foreign aid program under the rubric of climate.  I think that is partly foreshadowed by the poll result noting that Americans tend to oppose the foreign aid climate fund but are willing to spend some amount on domestic measures at home.

I’d further guess that Americans will see this as an attempt to end-run a global industrial policy, including something that amounts to a standby anti-free-trade regime, under a climate rubric.  And they suspect that China will benefit at the expense of the United States, from a trade standpoint, because its mercantalist policies will allow it to capture industries funded by green subsidies elsewhere in the world, but ignore the agreed-upon limits on its own behavior.  (Of course the public is not aware of this directly – still, how much reliance can one place on most granular numbers on the internal Chinese economy – the banking sector, for example, or even basics of output?  Does one really think that, even if “examined” by experts (how many of whom are able to read the original sources?), outsiders will be able to audit Chinese emissions?  Really?)

Which is to say, I don’t think Americans view Copenhagen as climate change policy, but instead as a convoluted foreign-aid-trade industrial policy arrangement attractive to governments in part because of capture by particular constituencies, and partly because the possibilities for new taxation regimes are irresistible – a point as true for the Obama administration as elsewhere.

If that’s so, and of course it might not be, the ironic result is that the White House, despite the immediate downside of bringing home something less comprehensive/draconian (depending on how you see it) than hoped for, might turn out to be thankful that the thing didn’t get as far along as anticipated.  Would the President really wanted to own what either the draft text was saying or even what the smaller groups of European states were calling for?  The President might even collect some upside if he is attacked by the international left and particularly by its global elites.

(And if you think that I think there’s a 100% correlation at this moment between my own views and those I’m freely ascribing to the American public, you’re right.  Maybe I’m all wrong about how ordinary Americans view this, but I suspect that in this case, my personal impressions map the public pretty well.  As a phenomenon, it won’t last, though; I’m ordinarily an unabashed elitist with very little sense of public opinion.)