26 July 2010

Personal Insecurity and Climate Politics

Last week I suggested that Julia Gillard, Australia's Prime Minister, was asking for trouble by promising that carbon pricing would transform society:
When will politicians learn that climate policies are a political loser if they require that people "transform the way we live and the way we work"? The vast majority of people simply do not want their lives transformed. Promising that government will transform your life is one way to ensure a rough political road for any policy -- climate change, health care, economic, whatever.
Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations presents a similar argument with respect to "green jobs":
Basically, cap-and-trade introduces uncertainty at an individual level (though it does the opposite for actual investors); in the current economic climate, that scares people into thinking that they will lose their jobs. . . Anything that the public is unfamiliar with adds to uncertainty – and that is precisely what people don’t want. Second, green jobs may poll well across a wide spectrum of voters, but that doesn’t mean that selling regulation or taxation with a jobs message will work.
To succeed, policies focused on decarbonizing the global economy must not be seen as adding to personal insecurities, better yet, they should add to personal security. This should be a major lesson taken from the failure of US climate legislation.