Tide Turning on Climate Politics
August 26, 2014
Recent polling and analysis suggests that the pendulum of public opinion has swung decidedly in favor of climate science and scientists on the issue of climate change.
One would never suspect any of this in reading the recent piece in the Atlantic, “How to Talk about Climate Change so that People Will Listen”, which I will not link to here.
Author Charles Mann, while dutifully reciting a litany of climate denial canards that would be perfectly in context at a Heartland Institute Science denial conference, completely misses the reality that the American people have, in fact, been listening – and a solid majority of Americans now favor decisive action on Climate Change.
• 88% of Democrats, 59% of Independents and 61% of liberal/moderate Republicans think global warming is happening, compared to only 28% of conservative Republicans;
• 81% of Democrats and 51% of liberal/moderate Republicans are worried about global warming, compared to only 19% of conservative Republicans;
• 82% of Democrats and 65% of liberal/moderate Republicans support strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, compared to only 31% of conservative Republicans.
In the same study, available here, polling showed that
- Americans are more than two times more likely to vote for a congressional or presidential candidate who strongly supports action to reduce global warming. Democrats, liberal and moderate Republicans, and Independents are more likely to vote for such a candidate. Only conservative Republicans are less likely to vote for such a candidate.
- Likewise, Americans are three times more likely to vote against a political candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming. Only conservative Republicans are, on balance, slightly more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming.
Completely lost on Mr. Mann is the fact that current paralysis of climate policy is not the fault of scientists who are communicating the facts – but rather in the general dysfunction of the political system, distorted by a gerrymandered House of Representatives, stampeded by fear of the tiny minority of far right wing activists who wield wildly disproportionate power in the campaign primary process.
Those highly vocal right wing activists are very much influenced, and financed, by a tiny number of extremely wealthy groups and individuals with deep roots in the fossil fuel industry.
Many Republicans have elected not to engage in the debate on climate change to avoid attracting a primary challenge and potentially losing their seat. One frequently cited example to justify the concern is that of former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who lost a primary challenge in 2010 after saying climate change is real and calling for a carbon tax.
Inglis, now executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, is one of a small group of Republicans who are pushing their party to actively engage on the issue, and he continues to advocate for a carbon tax.
“There are conservative members of Congress who realize that we need a free enterprise solution on energy and climate, and once the pain of the Great Recession is over, they will feel comfortable leading toward those free enterprise solutions,” Inglis told Bloomberg BNA. “What we are trying to do is go out and build support in their constituencies for that sort of proposition.”
It’s not difficult to name a number of public issues where the House majority is out of step with the majority of voters – for much the same reason.
The sea change in climate awareness became clearly noticeable following the severe summer of 2012, and the continued pounding by extreme weather events and jet stream weirdness have only reinforced voters awareness of the issue.
Now that the planet is speaking so forcefully, it is unlikely that opinions will swing back.
The Washington Post editorial board has noticed:
Despite ups and downs in the polling, a solid majority of Americans favors action to curb greenhouse emissions. As with the recent national shift on gay marriage, feelings on climate change will eventually move more decisively — we hope in time to spare the world unnecessary expense and suffering.
This week, the NYTimes published psychiatrist Robert Lifton’s discussion of the trends:
AMERICANS appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly.
The first thing to say about this swerve is that we are far from clear about just what it is and how it might work. But we can make some beginning observations which suggest, in Bob Dylan’s words, that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways. Each can be examined as a continuation of my work comparing nuclear and climate threats.
Pragmatic institutions like insurance companies and the American military have been confronting the consequences of climate change for some time. But now, a number of leading financial authorities are raising questions about the viability of the holdings of giant carbon-based fuel corporations. In a world fueled by oil and coal, it is a truly stunning event when investors are warned that the market may end up devaluing those assets. We are beginning to see a bandwagon effect in which the overall viability of fossil-fuel economics is being questioned.
Can we continue to value, and thereby make use of, the very materials most deeply implicated in what could be the demise of the human habitat? It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, “Your money or your life!” And Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” We are beginning to “think over” such choices on a larger scale.
In addition, as I’ve reported before, the important and rapidly growing Latino demographic is very concerned about the environment, and climate change in particular:
An analysis of nine polls tracking Hispanic voter preference released Wednesday shows that Hispanics are increasingly anxious about global warming and environmental conservation. That could put Latinos at odds with Republican lawmakers in Congress who deny man-made global warming and denounce President Obama’s plan to cut air pollution from power plants.
“From immigration reform to conservation, Latinos want candidates and elected officials who will best represent the issues they care about and will do so by promoting laws that will treat our community with dignity and respect,” said Leo Murrieta, national field director of the nonprofit Mi Familia Vota.
The analysis was conducted by Latino Decisions, a Latino public-opinion research firm, and commissioned by the nonprofit Hispanic Access Foundation. It found that a majority of Hispanic voters across the U.S. view global warming as a highly important issue. The surveys also indicated that Latino voters are worried about air and water quality, and support political action to address these concerns.