Who’s gonna pay for that?
We set out to find out how people really feel about the enormous costs of climate disasters in their communities — and who they think should foot the bill.
Morning and Happy Friday. Here’s your friendly reminder that if you want to sign up for weekly updates on the fight to hold Big Oil accountable, you can do so below.
If you’re still reeling from the emotional (or literal) hangover following this week’s presidential debate, you are far from alone. I won’t try to describe that absolute garbage fire, nor the harrowing implications for our democracy. Instead, I want to focus on one sort-of positive aspect of the debate: the unexpected questions on climate change (and from a Fox News moderator, at that).
Of course, it’s not a lot to ask that we talk about the climate crisis after a month of devastating wildfires, hurricanes, and floods battering the nation from coast to coast. And it’s not okay that it took apocalyptic conditions with hundreds of thousands of people losing their homes, a record number of them forced into emergency shelters, more still exposed to dangerous pollution in the middle of a public health crisis. While it’s no doubt progress that climate change is finally being talked about in the context of current events and the fallout for communities on the frontlines, that’s also a sign of the times — and that, for the majority of American voters, this crisis can no longer be ignored.
What stood out to me — and likely to many others — is that even now as the topic of our climate crisis is inescapable, the terms of our debate around it are still being framed by the fossil fuel industry’s decades of churning disinformation, doubt, and denial into the public sphere.
It’s going to take all of us to move the country out of the narrative Big Oil created. That means focusing on the present-day costs and consequences to regular people and their communities — and naming oil and gas companies for their continued role. Here at the Center for Climate Integrity, we’ve been trying to do that by presenting folks with the real, kitchen-table costs of climate change, and then finding out how they actually felt about it.
Last month, we launched a new series of digital ads in Maine, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, and Arizona that captured real conversations with local residents who were asked whether they — or polluting oil and gas companies — should be responsible for paying the billions of dollars it will cost to combat climate disasters.
The ads are part of our Pay Up Climate Polluters campaign, which supports communities holding fossil fuel giants accountable for the costly climate damages the industry knowingly caused (and lied about for decades). In the ads, a telemarketer-type calls up residents who live in some of those places — and after a brief explanation of the issues climate change is causing, he assures them that “We have a plan to fix all this damage caused by Big Oil companies: [Your state’s] taxpayers are going to pay.”
The following three ads feature estimates from our 2019 study on how much coastal communities across the U.S. will have to pay to protect themselves from sea level rise by 2040. Here’s how people reacted when they learned what their share of those bills would mean per-person:
Virginians were pretty stunned...
Mainers thought it was absolutely nuts.
And New Jerseyans … weren’t having it.
Big Oil spent decades and millions of dollars convincing people that climate change wasn’t serious enough — and that the science wasn’t conclusive enough — to warrant action. And when climate change became indisputable, they pivoted to saying that individuals were responsible — hoping to blame-shift the massive cost of climate adaptation, resilience and recovery onto the communities hurting most. But as the costs of surviving our climate crisis become all the more obvious and knowledge of this industry’s campaigns to deceive the public are exposed, people are less willing than ever to take the blame and foot the bill.
And that’s exactly what our ads and surveys found: in spite of Big Oil’s efforts, communities are moving past talking about climate change in terms of “belief,” out of disillusionment and defeat — and into anger, action, and the desire for accountability.
We did our research: separate polls found that more than two-thirds of voters support suing polluters to hold them accountable for damages related to climate change. That support increased once voters learned how climate change would impact them financially — and that fossil fuel companies engaged in widespread climate disinformation campaigns despite knowing that burning fossil fuels would have “potentially catastrophic” consequences.
Sometimes, all it takes to move the needle is one simple question — à la climate denier — who’s gonna pay for that?
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