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It's Hard to Argue for Climate Change Action from Self-interest

Matt Yglesias has a piece in The American Prospect arguing that it's time to stop trying to use the nationalistic appeal of "energy independence" to sell the American public on climate change action:

Pollsters and messaging gurus tasked with thinking about climate change have long noted that the public displays a limited enthusiasm for environmental arguments and a great deal of enthusiasm for nationalism. This has resulted in an upsurge in efforts to define the climate crisis as a national-security problem. There's some truth to this idea, but it's also open to misuse of various forms. Trying to secure support for a clean-energy agenda by playing to anti-Iran sentiment, for example, practically invites the counterargument that we should be drilling more oil and mining more coal at home.

It's certainly true, as Yglesias says, that energy independence and reducing domestic carbon emissions aren't isomorphic goals, and that makes it tricky to enlist nationalism in the service of climate change action.

But the rhetorical challenge vis a vis the American public is even more difficult than Yglesias thinks: What we need to do to stave off climate change actually compromises our national interest, narrowly construed. In Copenhagen we saw that good multilateral carbon reduction agreements are impossible when the big economic powers don't take the first step to impose meaningful limits on themselves. The United States actually needs to take an economic hit in the short term to jump-start global action. (And we're not even the biggest losers in a bad climate scenario. People in Africa and Indonesia are.) That takes a leap of faith and a certain kind of anti-nationalistic self-sacrifice that's will be really, really hard to sell to the public.

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