Is climate change concern among US voters growing because of moves by the US Congress and the White House to stymie pollution-cutting solutions—or in spite of them?
Gallup reports this month that Americans are taking global warming more seriously than at any time in the past eight years.
In any case, Gallup reports this month that Americans are taking global warming more seriously than they have at any time in the past eight years. In March, sixty-four percent of US adults say they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming. This is up from 55 percent at this time last year and is the highest since 2008. And the rise cuts across party lines: Gallup found that 40 percent of Republicans worry a “great deal” or “fair amount,” up from 31 percent last year. Independents’ concern bumped up nine points, from 55 percent to 64 percent. Democrats went from 78 percent to 84 percent.
New data compiled into detailed maps—down to the county and Congressional district level—by researchers at Yale and George Mason reveal that a robust majority of adults in every congressional district in the nation support limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. Seven in ten, to be precise. And 75 percent of US voters support regulating C02 as a pollutant more generally. As for Cascadians, seventy-seven percent in both Oregon and Washington support regulating carbon pollution, and 71 percent—in OR—and 73 percent in WA favor stricter limits on coal-fired power plants. Notably, numbers stay pretty high—above 60 percent—across blue and red parts of both states. In Alaska, 72 percent say we should regulate C02 as a pollutant and 67 percent agree to stricter limits on coal-fired power plants. In Idaho, it’s 70 percent and 65 percent, respectively.
None of this seems to jibe with Trump’s moves in office to make good on “campaign vows to rip apart every element of what [he] called Mr. Obama’s ‘stupid’ policies to address climate change.”
He is gearing up to kill the Clean Power Plan, roll back fuel-economy standards and other efficiency rules, trash climate change research and prevention programs across the federal government, slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent (more than any other agency), and possibly remove the budgeting metric known as the social cost of carbon, as well as blocking or weakening about a half-dozen additional Obama-era executive orders and policies to combat climate change. Republicans in Congress (and some Democrats), the New York Times reminds us, are siding with Trump—if not egging him on.
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The Yale maps, based on a statistical model of survey data gathered between 2008 and 2016, show more ways electeds are out of sync with Americans: fully 70 percent of voters know climate change is happening, and 53 percent understand that it’s caused mostly by human activities. In Oregon, that’s 72 percent and 54 percent statewide, respectively, and in Washington, it’s 73 and 55 percent. These numbers drop somewhat across Idaho state lines; 47 percent there say it’s human-caused. For Alaskans, the estimate is 70 percent who say it’s happening but 49 percent who attribute it to human activity. Yale estimates that a whopping 82 percent of American adults support funding research into renewable energy sources.
But the new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, recently said he didn’t believe that C02 “is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” calling for more debate. Breaking from Pruitt’s stance, however, and breaking yet another polling record, Gallup finds that as of early March fully 65 percent of Americans now say that “increases in the Earth’s temperature over the last century are primarily attributable to human activities rather than natural causes.” This represents a striking 10-percentage-point increase in a year’s time. Democrats and independents show double-digit increases while Republicans ticked up just four points. For what it’s worth, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley grilled Pruitt on his oil industry loyalty and dismissive attitude toward climate change during his confirmation hearings and Washington Senator Patty Murray urged her colleagues to vote against his confirmation. All four WA and OR Senators voted “no.” Idaho and Alaska senators voted to confirm.
Yale’s model finds that a slim majority nationally (51 percent) agrees climate change is already harming people in the US—that’s on par with Oregonians and Washingtonians—both 52 percent. In Idaho it’s 47 percent, and in Alaska it’s 48 percent. Still, only 40 percent think it will harm them personally—nationally and in Oregon and Washington, too. Even so, the fresh Gallup numbers indicate something of a bump in Americans’ risk perception:
Nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) today say the effects have already begun, up from 55 percent in March 2015. Another 31 percent, up from 28 percent in 2015, believe the effects are not currently manifest but will be at some point in the future. That leaves only 10 percent saying the effects will never happen, down from 16 percent last year and the lowest since 2007.
Gallup also saw an increase in the share of US adults who believe climate change will eventually pose a serious threat to them or their way of life. Forty-one percent now say it will, up from 37 percent in 2015 and, the highest Gallup has tracked since the late 1990s.
Seeing may indeed contribute to “believing.” A hefty majority (66 percent) told Gallup they’d experienced an unusually warm winter, and the bulk of those attribute it to human-caused global warming. The Yale maps also show climate worry registering higher than prevailing local politics would suggest in places in the US prone to severe weather impacts (droughts, flooding, hurricanes—e.g., parts of Florida and Texas).
The overall picture is encouraging—that is, if you ignore the fact that mainstream attitudes don’t seem to mean much to elected officials with their hands on the levers of power. Maybe it’s the decent folks in those red counties where the locals are experiencing both the heartbreak of global warming impacts and exhibiting growing support for climate policy fixes who hold the key to keeping wayward legislators (and agency heads) in check? It’s March, and in Cascadia that means endless bitter rain tamping down any hopeful signs of spring. I’d readily volunteer for a strategy-gathering field trip to southeast Florida about now! (More on that later.)