Bill Moyers: Why Are We Giving the Silent Treatment to the Crisis Which Could Make All Others Irrelevant?
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BILL MOYERS: There's something else that has come through and I saw it, we all saw it I think, throughout the campaign last year, the argument that we can't do anything about climate change that the experts are urging us to do and keep our economy growing. What's the argument to respond to that?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Well, I'll tell you, that it's a myth. It's a false choice. It's a zero sum game. You either can grow the economy or you can protect the environment, okay. So I changed the question, and I've been doing this now for several years. I said, okay, here's the question: do you believe that protecting the environment harms the economy and costs jobs, has no impact on the economy or jobs, or actually grows the economy and improves jobs?
Okay, and what do we find? An overwhelming majority of America, now, I'm talking like two thirds of Americans, say that it either has no impact or it actually improves the economy. In fact, that's the most frequently chosen answer is that most Americans don't see this as an inherent contradiction.
BILL MOYERS: What you're saying is that a big powerful industry controls or affects the outcomes of perception in this country disproportionately to what most people think?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: That's right. And in part they're able to do that because this issue is a low level issue, because we don't talk about it and because there is no what we call issue public on the other side.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Okay, so an issue public is basically an organized social movement that demands change, okay. And we're very familiar with this term. It's the pro or anti-immigration movement or the pro-gun control or the anti-gun control movement--
BILL MOYERS: The Civil Rights movement--
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: The Civil Rights movement.
BILL MOYERS: --the Suffragette movement, women's rights, you've got to be organized.
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Absolutely. You've got to be organized. And what we see, remember that 16 percent I identified as the alarmed? Again people who are very concerned and think this is an urgent problem, but they feel relatively isolated and alone. They say, "I feel this way, some of my friends and family feel this strongly." But they have no sense that they're part of over 40 million Americans that feel just as strongly as they do.
They've never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change. And I mean, that's what the political system ultimately responds to. If you basically have a vacuum of people who are demanding change, and I don't mean that truly. I mean, there are of course many great organizations that have been advocating for change for a long time. But it hasn't been a broad based citizens movement demanding change. In that situation a relatively small but well-funded and vocal community that says no can absolutely win the day.
BILL MOYERS: As you know twice in the last 20 years the country's tried to take, the government's tried to take a big step forward, under the Clinton administration and then under the first year of the Obama administration. And each time the Senate killed it.
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Yeah. But the key thing there is that each time both the Clinton administration and the Obama administration tried to do this it was essentially a top-down, inside the beltway strategy. We are going after and trying to cajole and convince and persuade the members of the Senate and the House to pass this legislation without first engaging the broad public and building a citizens movement, a issue public as I talked about before that was actually demanding change. Because in the end politicians care about their job.