Mitt Romney is about as likely to mention climate change during his speech tonight, as he is to bring up the curious incident of the dog on the roof.
After all, global warming is a sticky sort of issue for the ideologue who now inhabits the vacant husk of former Governor Romney: It's an external cost of business, a glaring market failure just begging to be corrected by the big bad federal government.
Better, therefore, not to mention the hottest month in American history; the droughts that have crippled crop yields; the lowest sea ice coverage ever recorded. If there's no solution that fits the ideology, it's impolitic to call attention to the problem.
Besides, it's not like voters care, right? Historically, climate change has commanded about as much of the voters' attention as have foreign relations with Madagascar. Who cares about the accelerating pace of planetary disruption when there are more pressing issues to address, like budgetary shortfalls, which gets to marry whom, and Paul Ryan's musical tastes?
Well, as it turns out, voters do care about climate change –– more than anyone expected, according to a new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. I wrote about the study a couple weeks ago for The Independent, so I won't describe it too deeply now, but here are a few bullet points:
- A robust majority (55%) of voters say they will consider a candidate's stance on global warming when they cast their vote.
- "Climate change issue voters" overwhelmingly believe that global warming is happening, suggesting there are plenty of votes to be gained, but few votes to lose, from taking a proactive stance on climate.
- Independents resemble Democrats in their climate beliefs –– in other words, they support action against climate change.
- Not only are these results true nationally, they also hold in ten swing states.
So, contrary to all preconceived notions, voters are actually worried about climate change, and they really want politicians to do something about it. Doesn't it sound like affirming the existence of global warming, and vowing to mitigate it, would be a savvy political move?
A follow-up question: what, precisely, do voters want their next president to do?
According to the study, all classes of voters –– even Republicans! –– were in favor of three specific policy proposals: regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant; forcing oil companies to pay for the external costs they currently foist upon society; and implementing a revenue-neutral tax shift that "increases taxes on fossil fuels and reduces the federal income tax by an equal amount."
The first two proposals wouldn't fly in an RNC speech right now: the EPA's CO2 regulations on coal-burning power plants were just struck down in court; and the Republican Party is far too indebted to donations from the Kochs and other dirty energy racketeers to impose extra costs on the fossil fuel industry, even if voters prefer clean air and a hospitable climate. (Ladies and gentlemen, our democracy!)
But what about the idea of a revenue-neutral tax shift? Is that completely unreasonable? Republicans hate income tax, don't they? (Better yet, cut payroll taxes.) Doesn't the GOP care, or at least make a lot of noise about how much they care, about job creation? Don't they want to get those imaginary legions of amoral welfare queens off the government's payroll? Aren't their solid-colored ties in a twist about the plight of the middle class?
So here's what I'd love to hear Romney say, and I don't think it's dramatically misaligned with his party's values: "We're going to encourage Americans to stop relying on the social safety net and return to work. We're going to make good, honest labor pay off for every citizen. We're going to restore the middle class, rejuvenate the American dream, and halve the unemployment rate in one fell swoop.
"We're going to do that by reducing taxes on the one thing we most want to encourage –– employment –– and increasing taxes on something we all (well, maybe not you, Senator Inhofe, but your state's in the bag anyway) want to reduce: carbon emissions. Now, I see you giving me the stink eye from the front row, Mr. Tillerson, but don't worry: we're only going to tax your industry a teensy little bit, and your company raked in $9 billion last quarter anyway. And think about how motivated your employees will be!"
Is a revenue-neutral tax shift a totally absurd proposal from a Republican presidential candidate? Well, when the candidate's running mate thinks that climate scientists use "statistical tricks" to sucker the public into believing in global warming, maybe. Still, that's what I'd love to hear from Romney tonight, farfetched though it may be. Come on, Willard –– the Independents are waiting.