That means avoiding the phrase “climate change,” so loaded with partisan connotations as it is. Stop talking about who or what is most responsible. And focus instead on what is happening and how unusual it is—and what it is costing communities.
The strategy is being increasingly employed in more conservative regions of the country, where climate doubt still runs deep—even if there are signs of cracks in the resistance thanks to the pummeling pattern of highly unusual and costly weather events.
“They see it firsthand,” Robert Mark Simpson, a professor of geography at the University of Tennessee at Martin, told me. “There is a sort of acknowledgment that the climate is changing. They just don’t think humans are that impactful. [They think blaming humans is] a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. economy.”
Simpson attended the conference at the Phoenix Convention Center to outline his three-year effort to educate farmers about climate change in western Tennessee and eastern Kentucky, where at some dinner tables the term remains a political curse word. Tennessee just elected a leading climate change doubter, Marsha Blackburn, to the U.S. Senate.
It’s a tall order. So, he is also trying another tack to reach the political and religious conservatives for which farming has been in the family for generations: warning that the family business might be in jeopardy—sooner than they might think.
“Will they be able to farm here 30 to 40 years from now?”
Another line of argument he has found to appeal to conservatives’ personal connection to nature.
“Many are hunters and fishermen. They are really tied to the environment,” Simpson said. He finds he can reach them by trying to tap into their belief that “we’ve been given stewardship” of the Earth.
But the political headwinds that he and others are up against—especially in red states where political leaders are unwilling to accept the scientific consensus that human activity is playing an outsize role in the changing climate—were on display last weekend.
As winter storms bore down on large swaths of the country, Trump took to Twitter to warn Americans to “be careful and try staying in your house. Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold.”
Nowhere is the challenge of convincing the doubters without being labeled a partisan or environmental zealot greater than in the ranks of broadcast meteorologists. Local TV weather experts were among the last holdouts in the scientific community to accept the consensus that humans are responsible for climate change—so much so that in 2014 then-President Barack Obama met with some of them as part of his effort to sell his environmental policy agenda.
“I think a lot of the broadcasters were concerned that there was such a political divide within the population and if they were very vocal of any aspect of climate change some subset of their audience would not view them with a level of trust,” Keith Seitter, a meteorologist and the American Meteorological Society’s executive director, told me.
Now, some 600 broadcast meteorologists, out of an estimated 2,200 in the United States, are working with Climate Matters to craft new ways to tell their viewers about climate change.
“I have changed my presentation a bit,” Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist for the CBS affiliate in Columbia, S.C., told me. “I used to start with the science. Now I try to show them how it is changing and then I go into why it is changing. That may be a more effective approach. I share the raw data with them that has not been ‘manipulated’ and it throws them for a loop.”
Even in viewing areas considered Democratic strongholds, talking about climate change can be risky.
“You have to be careful,” Bob Ryan, a longtime television meteorologist in Washington who was the first network meteorologist, told me. “If you get into policy you are getting into political quicksand. People don’t want to be lectured to. That doesn’t accomplish anything.”
So he too is in the habit of explaining related weather events in the context of how much more often they are occurring than in the past. “Ellicott City has had a number of 500-year flood events in recent years,” he cites as one example, referring to the Baltimore suburb.
The GOP senators insisted that the tens of billions in cuts to federal health spending proposed in the bill would not result in coverage losses because, they said, the states would have more flexibility.
.. The GOP senators insisted that the tens of billions in cuts to federal health spending proposed in the bill would not result in coverage losses because, they said, the states would have more flexibility.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS):
“If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections”
.. as a general rule the states do things better than the federal government does [things]. And that is essentially what the bill is
.. I think the efficiencies that come with transferring the funding to the states can very well make up the difference between what the federal thing would be.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):
“It lets states innovate and adopt creative solutions”
the heart of the legislation takes the policymaking role of Washington and sends it to the states. It lets states innovate and adopt creative solutions to local problems, which vary state by state.
But it’s not just devolving power from the federal government to the state. It also involves a 16 percent cut in federal spending [upfront] and a 34 percent cut over the next 10 years.
.. Ted Cruz
CBO’s analysis throughout this process has been ridiculously slow, unreliable, and based on policy assumptions that are demonstrably false.
You really believe that cutting federal spending by 34 percent will not result in any other people losing their insurance?
What federal spending is cut?
Well, the Medicaid expansion would be sunset, for one, is my understanding.
The decrease in future rates of growth is not a cut. And it is only in the bizarre world of Washington that billions more money is characterized in the press as a cut rather than an increase, which is in fact what it is.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA)
.. I have sent four amendments to Lindsey [Graham] and Bill [Cassidy] that I think will strengthen the bill. The one I feel most strongly about is that I want the Medicaid work requirement — I don’t want it to be optional; I want it to be a requirement. Just like we did with welfare reform.
.. number two, I want to get us to give guardrails to the states to say, “You cannot use these moneys to set up a state-run single-payer system.” I don’t believe in it. I think it’s a mistake.
[Guardian reporter] Lauren Gambino
Do you think that kind of goes against the idea of states’ rights and being able to use this money [as the states want to]?
No, no. We have plenty of federal rules that apply to every state, but we still agree with states’ rights.
I think it spends scarce resources in a more rational manner. It will control costs. I like the idea that it encourages states to innovate.
How does it do that? Any of those things?
Well, you need to read the bill.
Well, you’re voting for it, right? So what is the explanation for how it does those things?
I am. Because it gives states added flexibility. Read the bill and you’ll understand.
The bill would cut federal funding to states by 34 percent over the next —
But it wouldn’t cut Alabama, though.
Well, do you think the other states should deal with —
Well, you see some of our states, four of our states, are getting a disproportionate amount of money from health care now. You know which ones.
.. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
What is the policy explanation for the Graham-Cassidy health care bill?
Policy explanation? I’m not into policy, so I don’t really know. I’m into facts.
[In a follow-up interview hours later on Tuesday] You were joking earlier, but what is the health policy in the Graham-Cassidy proposal that you like?
More state innovation. More input from the states.
.. Johnny Isakson
The governors — I’m from a state that didn’t expand Medicaid, and the way we were going in health care looked like those states would actually be hurt worse than other states.
By going to block grants, back to the states, the control of money stays with the states, and you have less [un]predictability and external deviation in terms of funding.
.. Jeff Stein
So just a follow-up on that. It’s one thing to say the bill gives the states power — that’s one thing.
But it doesn’t just do that. It also cuts the money they have — some estimates say around 16 percent of federal funding.
I’m not going to confirm that statement one way or another. I don’t know what the numbers are going to end up looking like.
Right, but if it does cut federal spending overall, would you support it?
You know, those are dangerous questions. I’m waiting until I see the totality of the legislation to say whether I support the whole thing or not, anyway.
I’m not a no, but I’m not a yes either — and I’m waiting for my governor to respond to me with their input as well. It’s really key what they’re doing.
.. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY):
“The governors who decided to expand [Medicaid] knew that they were going to lose federal funding”
I want to ask, in a big-picture way: What is the policy explanation for how this bill makes people’s lives better?
It gets the money out of Washington, lets people at home make the decision, and gets state legislatures involved, and governors involved. It moves money out of Washington. It’s away from socialism.
CBPP says it will also reduce federal health spending on Medicaid and the exchanges by about  percent.
I’d love to reduce federal spending on health insurance.
Right, but so it’s not just about moving power to the states — it’s also about cutting funding.
It’s about moving power to the states, where money can be spent much more effectively.
How does it do that?
Well, you have to read the formula and read the bill, and it will tell you how it moves money to the states and how much they get and how much they don’t get. …
There’s a concern from Republican governors who have come out and said, “This is too dramatic a cut in spending; we won’t have enough money to insure everyone.”
You have to interview them on that.
Do you think they’re wrong?
Well, it depends on if they’re states that expanded Medicaid or not. …
In the Medicaid expansion states, they still have a lot of people who rely on Medicaid expansion for health insurance.
I opposed Medicaid expansion. I think the Supreme Court got it wrong [when it ruled in 2012 that Congress did have the constitutional authority to implement most of Obamacare].
The governors who decided to expand [Medicaid] knew that they were going to lose federal funding over time, and they’re objecting to that — but they knew it. You could say, “Some of them didn’t understand it, and so-and-so wasn’t there, and he wasn’t governor yet,” but they understood that this would be part of the process. So if they used the money poorly —
And my concern with Medicaid is that the people who Medicaid was designed for originally have been cut out of the process, because they’re still on the waiting list to get on Medicaid. I don’t know how much you understand about Medicaid, but this whole expansion of Medicaid went for healthy, working-age individuals — it did not go for the people who [Medicaid] was designed for, which was low-income women, children, and the disabled.
.. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA):
“This is the last attempt to do what we promised in the election”
.. Chuck Grassley
Let me give you a political answer, and then I’ll give you a substance answer.
The political answer is that Republicans have promised for seven years that we were going to correct all the things that were wrong with Obamacare, and we failed the first eight months. This is the last attempt to do what we promised in the election.
The substance answer is that Obamacare starts with the principle that all knowledge about health care, and all decisions on health care, ought to rest in Washington, DC. The complete opposite of that is Graham-Cassidy, that Washington doesn’t know best and we’ll let each of the 50 states [decide what’s best].