Should climate campaigners take a page from the Tea Party playbook? That was the suggestion of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) yesterday, who is heading up efforts to pass an energy and climate bill in the Senate.
"If Tea Party folks go out there and get angry because they think their taxes are too high, for God's sake, a lot of citizens ought to get angry that they're being killed, and our planet is being injured by what is happening on a daily basis with the way we provide our power and our fuel and the old practices we have," said Kerry in a speech on Wednesday at a clean energy forum. "That's something worth getting angry about, and I think it's time for people to do that."
"I want you to go out there and to start knocking on doors, and talking to people and telling people, 'This has to happen,'" Kerry told the gathered representatives from labor, environmental, and agricultural groups.
Asked by a reporter afterward whether he thinks the Tea Partiers have something to teach climate activists, Kerry backtracked a bit. What he and other advocates in the Senate need to do, he said, is draw from the lessons learned in the fights to pass the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. "We have done this before. We just have to get back to basics and make it happen again."
But Kerry was clearly frustrated at the lack of visible citizen advocacy for his efforts to pass climate and energy legislation. In theory, public support for tackling climate change is strong. As polls released last week by both the Democratic polling firm Benenson Strategy Group and Republican pollster Frank Luntz have affirmed, Americans overwhelmingly support both a cap on carbon dioxide pollution and a shift to renewable energy sources.
But, as a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this week found, Americans rank global warming dead last out of a list of 21 priorities for the Obama administration. While support for the concept of addressing climate change is high, there isn't much enthusiasm for actually doing anything in practice. Maybe there is a thing or two clean energy advocates could learn from the Tea Partiers.