A conservative group that wants to see the US government address climate change is trying to reach the president through his favorite medium: TV. The Partnership for Responsible Growth will air a series of five climate change ads in Washington, DC over the next five weeks, targeted at the networks and shows President Donald Trump is known to watch: Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe. The group announced its troll today.
The ads don’t have a target audience of just one, of course. Besides reaching Trump, the ads are meant to help counterbalance the networks' tendencies to treat climate change as a two-sided issue, giving equal airtime to those who deny its existence. Instead, the ads could help show something like reality — most people agree climate change is occurring but many disagree about how serious it will be. “Much of what you see in the media [and] advertising raises doubts about whether there’s a scientific consensus about climate change,” says George Frampton, one of the partnership’s co-founders. The group hopes to get the idea of conservative support for action on climate change out there, influencing think tanks and media bookers and eventually getting the message to Republicans in the House and Senate, too.
“Millennial conservatives by and large recognize [climate change is] an issue,” Peter Bryn, a Citizens’ Climate Lobby organizer focused on conservative support, said during a call about the ad campaign. “They're just looking for a solution that doesn’t mean big government picking winners and losers. They're looking for a market-based approach.”
The ads try to present climate change in a way the partnership believes will speak convincingly to conservative legislators and voters. The first ad focuses on the scientific certainty around climate change, highlighting a finding that 97 percent of climate scientists believe the world is warming. “If 97 percent of all airline workers told you not to get on a plane, you wouldn’t,” the ad says. “If you’re 97 percent certain, you’re certain.” The group’s second ad shows a father and son trying to fish from a rowboat in a flooded town.
“Family values ... are very real and very tangible to people,” Reverend Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, said on the call. “They’ve experienced it. Just look at what’s happened this weekend with the flooding down South and tornadoes. They’re current and real problems becoming more and more. So I believe that these ads have a very good shot at making that real, tangible connection.”
Each commercial will conclude with a message promoting a “free market solution to climate change.” Though it isn’t detailed in the ads themselves, the Partnership for Responsible Growth is specifically in favor of a carbon tax, which would tax companies’ carbon use to promote investment in cleaner technologies, while cutting down on environmental regulations.
Frampton sees the revenue this tax could raise as a way to offset tax cuts elsewhere. “The White House and House Republican leadership have promised to advance massive tax reform plans, which could add anywhere from $4–7 trillion over 10 years to an already mushrooming debt with absolutely no proposals to how to pay for it,” Frampton said on the call. “Revenue from a carbon excise fee on carbon fuels could provide $2 trillion or more as a pay for tax reform.”
That’s nice in theory, but a carbon tax has perennially been proposed and shot down, without any actual legislators coming out in favor of it. As Vox has pointed out time and again, a carbon tax is largely a political fantasy at this point, and there’s little incentive for a Republican in Congress to come out in support of what is ultimately a tax increase.
.@thehill Your story about me & the carbon tax is absolutely incorrect—it is just the opposite. I will not support or endorse a carbon tax!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2016
During last year’s campaign, Trump also tweeted, “I will not support or endorse a carbon tax!” The president has called climate change a “hoax” and put the Environmental Protection Agency in the hands of Scott Pruitt, who sued the agency 14 times and has rejected overwhelming evidence that human activities are causing global warming. His administration is now considering whether to withdraw from the landmark Paris agreement on curbing emissions, all of which suggests that addressing climate change — even with a conservative approach — is a real uphill battle.
Bryn says that some Republican officials are interested in addressing climate change, but they aren’t seeing any support for it back in their districts. He points out that there’s a bipartisan “Climate Solutions Caucus” in the House, which currently has 19 Republicans on it.
There does appear to be a small but growing contingent of conservatives advocating for climate change action. One way to tap into that growing group, says Bryn, is to be careful with how the climate debate is framed. “When we say ‘conservatives don't accept climate change because one conservative doesn't,’ it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy in my experience,” he says. “It becomes something where progressives will read that and say ‘what's the point of talking to conservatives?’ And conservatives who may be reachable by this ad, for example, will read that and say, ‘I've already been given up upon by society on this issue, so what’s my inspiration to draw on?’”
This is a problem Bryn wants the media to address. The last election, he says, showed clear divides within the Republican Party and people who identify as conservative, and he wants to see journalists do a better job clarifying that climate denial is not a position held by all Republican voters. “We have to be careful and not be sloppy with our language,” he says.
The partnership’s first ad begins running today and is supposed to air about 50 times this week. The group hopes to continue airing climate ads year round in DC and to create some new spots over time, but only the first set of five ads is funded so far.