Leaked Clinton Campaign Memo on ‘Climate Change’ Shows it’s Really About Politics, Not Science

By Larry Kummer at the Fabius Maximus website

Memorandum: “Climate: A unifying theory to the case“,
Emailed from John Podesta to Chris Lehane, 28 January 2014.

This memo was emailed to Podesta (a senior White House official) from Lehane (partner in the strategic communications firm Fabiani & Lehane, dissolved in Nov 2015). We have it courtesy of Wikileaks — and whoever leaked it to them.

John Podesta was Chief of staff to Bill Clinton and Counselor to the President for Obama. He is Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Chris Lehane – When an attorney in the White House Counsel’s office, he and his current business partner Mark Fabiani called themselves the “Masters of Disaster” for their work as a “rapid-response” team responding to the many scandals of the Clinton Administration. Lehane co-authored a book on damage control titled Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control. Jim Jordan, Kerry’s former campaign manager, called him ”a master of the political hand-to-hand” for his work as a political strategist.

“Thank you for asking us to share some ideas for a holistic approach to climate. Per your direction, the goal is to unify policy, politics, and communications to help the Administration best execute an informed plan over a multi-year time period. …this document is intended to provide some food for thought as the Administration refines its thinking on climate. …{it} addresses the four components that the Administration may want to consider as it seeks to lead on this issue.

  1. Three-Year Framework. …
  2. Right v. Wrong. Make the case that climate must be approached as a challenge of historical social change where progress will depend in part on successfully casting the issue in moral terms of who is right and who is wrong …
  3. The Big Idea. …{It} could drive an Administration-wide approach to climate for the next three years. …
  4. 2014 Action Plan. …

“To achieve victory, we must treat climate change as an issue of historic importance that is worthy of a true political social movement to create change. This political social movement must be founded on moral principles with stark definitions of who is right and who is wrong, and it is important to outline the historically negative, irreversible implications if we were to not succeed.

“By pursuing this as a political social movement, President Obama and his Administration will best be able to assure that his legacy includes his unprecedented leadership on climate that initiated the shifting of the country’s political tectonic plates to enable transformative climate change policy, before it was too late.

“…At the end of the day, given the powerful and entrenched interests that are opposed to climate change policy, one needs to have an organizing platform that defines the Administration as being morally on the right side of the issue and, equally important, defines the opposition as morally responsible for an issue that threatens the health and welfare of the American people. …

“Define the issue as between those who believe in the science, and therefore are taking steps to respond to the scientific findings, versus those who do not believe in the science. The power of this approach is that it puts the opposition in an indefensible box (the vast majority of people believe the science that climate is changing); it fits into what we call the Troglodyte Narrative(anti-women; anti-Latino; anti-gun safety; anti-common sense fiscal policy; and anti-science) that is raising basic trust issues for the Republican Party – especially with electorally decisive voter cohorts. You either believe in basic science or you are against basic science — in which case you fail a basic requirement for being capable of occupying public office. …

“The Winning Principles

“The Big Idea will need to be animated by three principles that the wedge political policies would connect with (think of FDR’s Four Freedoms or TR’s Three C’s). In the context of being informed by various campaigns (candidate and ballot initiative) in which climate was deployed as a decisively winning political issue, there are three issues that really stand out as wedge principles that could undergird the Big Idea (whatever the Big Idea may be).

“Health/Safety. The opposition is engaged in practices or holding positions that are demonstrably imperiling the health and safety of our people. This ranges from macro issues like extreme weather to local issues like drinking water, air quality and rail safety to micro issues like children’s asthma. People care when the health and safety of their families are implicated.

“Pocket Book. People care when climate impacts them economically. On the positive/aspirational front, this principle can be about whether new green jobs will be based here or overseas or how citizens are able to save money by paying less for energy. …

“Accountability/Responsibility. Follow the money. Who is accountable/responsible for the bad things that are happening, and how are they rigging the system to benefit from the bad things? …

“2014 Action Plan

“…Establishment of an extreme weather SWAT team prepared to work together and engage when extreme weather happens — including response; local outreach; media; science information about historic nature of the event; and coordinating possible principal travel (POTUS, FLOTUS, VPOTUS, Cabinet).”

———————— End excerpt. ————————


The most important thing about this memo, obvious almost three years later, is its complete failure. Few Americans consider the environment our most serious problem. It is a minor issue in the presidential election, seldom even mentioned. Climate change isn’t among our top 10 fears.

The approach is pure politics, with little mention of science. For example, the SWAT teams {as we have seen} blame all “extreme” weather on climate change — ignoring that extreme weather is normal, occurring before any anthropogenic effects. The IPCC has repeatedly explained this, not just in their regular Assessment Reports but also in the 2012 report “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” (SREX).

Worse, the binary framing (“the vast majority of people believe the science that climate is changing”) ignores the key issues of how much change is likely from anthropogenic sources — and when. That is the area of debate among climate scientists (there is as yet no consensus), and the necessary input to make public policy decisions.

Describing climate change as a moral issue probably seemed like a sure winner to Lehane, especially with academia, journalists, and most NGOs as supporting players. But that prevented political compromise or any rational discussion of costs vs. benefits — both essential elements of successful public policy. It polarized the issue so that America has taken few measures to even prepare for the repeat of past weather (as Hurricane Matthew reminded us).

Worse, Lehane does not mention what he relies upon as the authorities for science. The IPCC? NOAA? The alarmists that journalists love for their exciting soundbites? The climate scientists who write the IPCC’s Working Group I reports devote great effort to explaining their state of knowledge — and the large uncertainties in much of it. There is a large gap between the certainty of warming since the early 19th century plus the large role of anthropogenic forcings since 1950 — and the massive unknowns driving climate during the 21st century.  All that is lost when the issue is defined in purely moral terms.

So they lost. Clinton’s probable win (in March I predicted a landslide) Lehane and his fellow activists a second chance. Will they learn from their failures in the 28 years since James Hansen’s 1988 testimony to Congress ignited the movement? Or will they have sufficient political power to push through their agenda despite their weak political support and ineffective plans?

There are better ways to handle major public policy issues. Climate change, our mad foreign wars, and our mishandling of so many other key challenges — these show our dysfunctional politics in action. We can do better.


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