Purging the Bugaboo

Oregon State University researchers claim that conservatives' denial of human-induced climate change can be reversed by linguistic and visual manipulation. All that is necessary to sway conservative minds, the researchers say, is to couch climate change in terms of patriotism accompanied by a photo of a bald eagle and American flag.

Given their extensive investigation, I'll take Oregon State researchers at their word. But there is a more potent way to lure recalcitrant conservatives into the environmental fold.
Just don't make the mistake of trying to win converts by raising the prospect of the end of the world, or of saving animals and plants from extinction. Such approaches won't work on individuals who view regulation of greenhouse gas emissions as a ploy to facilitate redistribution of wealth to the Democratic Party's base.

A promising methodology to change the minds of conservatives is to bring climate change and other environmental protection issues right to their front doorsteps. Frame environmental concerns in terms of personal health and economic impacts. That is a language that even the most ideologically rigid conservatives can understand, and just as importantly, appreciate.

A slew of scientific studies document that it would cost far more to repair (when possible) the damage from environmental degradation than to prevent it in the first place.

For example, the International Energy Agency issued a report in which it was calculated that a $44 trillion investment to decarbonize the world would result in $115 trillion in fuel savings, which when scaled down to the individual's level, would be significant.

Taking everything into account, anti-pollution regulations are projected to cost households an extra $45 annually by 2020. That should be a mere pittance for even most low income families, especially when offset with the monetary benefits from improved public health.

It is true that in a sense, a price tag cannot be put on good health, given it is so elemental to our existence that it is priceless. But costs can be tabulated for poor health in terms of medical expenses, lost work time, and unrealized income because of shorter life spans.

In a study published in Health Affairs, climate change-related ozone pollution was linked to $6.5 billion in health costs during the first decade of this century.

Moreover, when environmental protection is marketed skillfully in terms of health benefits, opponents lose steam. An example is the experience of William Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He broke new ground in guiding regulation through a bureaucratic maze back in the early 1970s.

"It was easier politically to get things done, he said, "when an environmental problem was presented as a health problem because the latter was less abstract, less politically charged."

Thus, health and economics are likely to surpass photos of eagles in causing conservatives to shift in favor of a green agenda, in practice if not in name.

It will be a conversion that comes not a moment too soon.