How to Blow Smoke on Climate Action, by Luntz and Bush

Get ready to hear conservatives critical of EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and climate action start using the poll-tested words “technology” and “innovation” over and over and over.  This cross post from Joe Romm of Climate Progress tells you how and why:

For instance, Bloomberg BNA just interviewed GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush about the CPP and his own energy, environment and climate strategy. He said, “Technology, innovation and discovery should play a major role in preserving a clean and healthy environment.”

Wait, that wasn’t Jeb. That was Frank Luntz in his famous 2002 memo to conservatives and the Bush White House explaining that the best way to pretend you care about the climate and the environment — while opposing regulations that might actually do something to reduce pollution — was to blather on about “technology and innovation.”

What Jeb actually said was “I’m confident that with sensible and balanced policies from Washington, American innovators and entrepreneurs will pioneer a new generation of technology that improves our environment, strengthens our economy, and continues to amaze the world.

Wait, that wasn’t Jeb either. That was his brother, President George W Bush, in 2008 climate remarks parroting Luntz’s advice for the umpteenth time.

What Jeb actually truly really said was “Generally, I think as conservatives we should embrace innovation, embrace technology, embrace science. It’s the source of a lot more solutions than any government-imposed idea.”

Yes, it’s Orwellian that Bush keeps saying conservatives should “embrace science” given that they have actually chosen to embrace anti-scientific climate denial as I discussed in May the last time Jeb trotted out those meaningless two words.

Now Jeb is adding in the “technology and innovation” mantra popularized by his brother. And who can blame him? They are both marvelous, glittering things. Of course, because we’ve ignored the science for a quarter century, “technology and innovation” are not magic wands that can preserve a livable climate without strong government programs to spur deployment — such as a price on carbon or EPA carbon pollution standards. But they are both marvelous, glittering things we can all agree on.

And that is precisely why they are a cornerstone of Luntz’s poll-tested euphemisms for “we want to sound like we care about the climate, we just don’t want to do anything about it”:

Technology and innovation are the key in arguments on both sides. Global warming alarmists use American superiority in technology and innovation quite effectively in responding to accusations that international agreements such as the Kyoto accord could cost the United States billions. Rather than condemning corporate America the way most environmentalists have done in the past, they attack their us for lacking faith in our collective ability to meet any economic challenges presented by environmental changes we make. This should be our argument. We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation.

Yes, progressives do like to argue that because of successful American innovation and technology development efforts — much of it backed by the federal government — it is now super-cheap to slash carbon pollution. Of course, we like to argue this point because that’s what all of the major independent scientific and economic analyses show, and so that’s what every single major government in the world agrees is actually true (see here).

Team Bush, however, is just really good at staying on message. As I wrote way back in 2007, the “technology trap” is where clean energy technology is used as an excuse to further delay action, rather than as a reason to foster immediate action on climate change and the environment.

Luntz himself reiterated his advice in an early 2005 strategy document “An Energy Policy for the 21st Century“ writing, “Innovation and 21st-century technology should be at the core of your energy policy.” Luntz repeated the word “technology” thirty times in that document.

Then, in an April 2005 speech describing his proposed energy policy, Bush repeated the word ‘technology’ more than forty times. Business Week pointed out that Bush was following Luntz’s script and noted “what’s most striking about Bush’s Apr. 27 speech is how closely it follows the script written by Luntz earlier this year.” The article, titled “Bush Is Blowing Smoke on Energy,” also pointed out “the President’s failure to propose any meaningful solutions.”

The Luntz script seems to have worked for George W. It remains to be seen if it will work for Jeb, too.