Mr. Obama’s Copenhagen promise to cut US emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 will rely heavily on the cap-and-trade bill currently winding its way through the Senate. But a bill that was never going to be an easy sell has become even more fraught with potential complications during recent months.
Polls suggest that Americans have soured on Obama's climate strategy, and the "climategate" e-mail scandal has highlighted the public's increasing skepticism of the basic science driving some of the White House’s most aggressive policy prescriptions.
A new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows that two-thirds of Americans still believe the federal government should regulate greenhouse gas emissions from sources like factories and cars.
But the polling also shows that the public is increasingly dissatisfied with the president’s overall handling of the global warming issue. Support has slipped from 61 percent near the president’s 100-day mark to 45 percent this week.
Obama's actions in Copenhagen are a case in point. For example, 57 percent of Americans polled oppose the president’s proposal to provide $10 billion a year to subsidize emission cuts in developing countries.
The tone of the global warming debate had already begun to change before the raucous Copenhagen conference, though.
With several key decisions, Obama has set the scene for expanding the reach of climate-change imperatives – and science – into the lives of everyday Americans.
He has made a “green economy” a hallmark of the $787 billion stimulus package passed in February. He has prioritized the cap-and-trade bill and put into effect new auto mileage standards. And the Environmental Protection Agency has for the first time characterized carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as a pollutant that it can control.
But he has spent virtually no time engaging the public about the truth of the science. The climategate scandal, in which leaked e-mails alleged that support for the manmade global warming scenarios were politicized, played directly into a growing ambivalence. The result could be flagging public support of drastic climate change measures, says Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee.
“[Climate policy advocates including Obama] built up a narrative that, instead of bringing the public on board with dialogue and understanding, relied on emotion and authority,” writes Mr. Reynolds, who covered the summit for his blog on Instapundit, in an e-mail. “Now, the authority figures are losing authority, and the emotion is swinging the other way, as emotion generally does.”
In that light, what may be most problematic for the president is how the public perceives the scientists who have promulgated manmade global warming. Four in 10 Americans now say they place little or no trust in what scientists proclaim about the environment, a marked increase from recent years, notes The Washington Post. Distrust among Democrats has changed only marginally, but distrust among independents rose from 24 to 40 percent in the past year.
Republicans seek an advantage
Since climategate broke, Republicans have hoped to push the doubt about climate change – or at least its cause – into the mainstream in a way that can impact Obama’s policy.
“This is a sea change in our culture,” Marc Morano, a former Republican staffer turned prominent climate change skeptic, told Politico earlier this month. “Wait until January or February. You’re going to see numbers [on belief in global warming] that have dropped through the floor.”
It is this hope, coupled with the potential economic impacts of a cap-and-trade bill (such as higher energy costs), that have Republicans hoping some moderate Senate Democrats vote against a bill next year.
It will be "difficult to get 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass it," Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R) of Wisconsin told Fox News.
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