The whole premise behind the cap-and-trade debate is to compel action by the big utilities to dramatically scale back emissions through fear.

The basic argument of leading Democrats is simple: If we don’t move now, the world is doomed.

The problem with that argument is that few (outside Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreWillie Brown: Kamala Harris should 'politely decline' any offer to be Biden's running mate Marquita Bradshaw beats establishment-backed Mackler in Tennessee Democratic Senate primary Professor with history of correctly predicting elections forecasts that Biden will defeat Trump MORE) actually believe it. If the world were going to end in a couple of years because of global warming, the issue would be at the top of every poll of the top issues that face the country. Global warming ranks near the bottom of almost every poll.

A slowing economy only makes that argument harder for the environmentalists. If the choice is between policies that create jobs and policies that might prevent global warming, the jobs argument will win every time.

The current cap-and-trade proposal is easy for opponents to attack. By giving a subsidy to only a small segment of the population in order to deal with the cost that will inevitably be passed on to consumers, the Democrats are exceedingly vulnerable to the charge that the increased costs to rate-payers are akin to another big tax increase.

The environmental movement would be better off making more tangible arguments, with an approach that has more carrots than sticks.

Instead of talking global warming, they should talk health and safety, specifically the health and safety of children. You can make the link between the rise in asthma in children and increased pollution more credibly than you can make the case for the end of the world.

More Americans believe that we should clean up the air that we breathe and water that we drink for the sake of our kids than believe that Chicken Little was right.

And in a slowing (or collapsing) economy, most Americans think legislative actions that cause higher taxes and more expensive utility bills are disastrous.

If the environmental movement wants victory, they need to recalibrate their message and policy solutions. They should be talking less about the end of the world and more about the beginning of new jobs. They should focus more on tax incentives to both the utilities and the consumers.

Instead of bashing the local gas or electric company, the Congress ought to give them real investment incentives on clean coal technology and nuclear power development. And the Obama administration should give real incentives to consumers to encourage them to purchase new refrigerators, washing machines, light bulbs and home solar panels, so they lose less energy as they buy new American-made products.

This should be the new cap-and-trade policy.