According to a new survey led by researchers at the University of Michigan, more Americans than ever, about one in five, say they are not sure whether climate change is occurring. Paradoxically, the survey also shows that those who are convinced that there is no solid evidence of global warming is at its lowest level (15 percent) in the nine-year history of the poll.
Most interesting however, is the fact that the proportion of Republicans who are uncertain about climate change has doubled in the past twelve months, rising from 13 percent last year to 26 percent today.
“Belief that the climate is changing among Republicans was at 56 percent last fall, and now it’s down to 39 percent. So that was a pretty big drop,” said Sarah Mills of the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
Of course, CLOSUP investigators did not ask the right question. They should have asked whether poll respondents believed that dangerous climate change is occurring, or will occur, due to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is only if manmade climate change is problematic that it should be a public policy issue, let alone worth the over one billion dollars now being spent every day on climate finance across the world. Had researchers asked this question, the survey would have undoubtedly revealed even more uncertainty in the public.
Regardless, asked why such a big change occurred in the stance of GOP supporters, Mills told National Public Radio, “We think that it could be that Donald Trump, the Republican’s presidential nominee, has said he is a nonbeliever in climate change.”
Trump has certainly been outspoken on the issue. In his May 26 energy policy speech, he promised “to rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions including the Climate Action Plan” and “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs. ”
On July 26, Trump told Fox News, “I say it [man-made climate change] could have a minor impact, but nothing, nothing to what they’re [climate activists] talking about. And what it’s doing is putting us at a tremendous disadvantage as a country because other countries are not adhering to the rules; we are and it makes it impossible for our businesses to compete.”
The reports of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which reference hundreds of research papers published in the world’s leading science journals, demonstrate that Trump’s climate skepticism is well substantiated. Marc Morano, the executive director of ClimateDepot.com, one of the world’s most influential skeptical Web sites, told Canada’s Rebel Media: “Trump is the first Republican presidential nominee that has ever staked out a strongly science supported skeptical position not only on climate science claims, but also on the solutions.”
Mills’ speculation about the cause of the big drop in Republican climate change concern appears justified. Trump’s candor does appear to have helped sway public opinion.
In “Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S.,” published in the journal Climatic Change, researchers at Drexel University, McGill University and Ohio State University showed that the stated positions of politicians and other “elites” in society is the major factor driving public opinion.
The analysis, based on an examination of 74 separate surveys over a nine-year period, supported the 2009 conclusion of Harvard University’s Susan McDonald: “When elites have consensus, the public follows suit and the issue becomes mainstreamed. When elites disagree, polarization occurs, and citizens rely on other indicators…to make up their minds.”
The Drexel/McGill/Ohio State study showed that when prominent Republicans worked with the Democrats in support of the dangerous global warming hypothesis, the public was far more supportive of this position.
However, after the Republicans split with the Democrats on climate change in 2008, there was a sudden drop in the fraction of the public who “worried a great deal” about climate.
Many conservative strategists believe that public opinion must change significantly before more Republican leaders can follow Trump’s assertive approach to climate change. But the Drexel/McGill/Ohio State study, as well that of the University of Michigan, not to mention Trump’s unexpected victory in the GOP race, suggest that this is a mistake. There is strong public support for politicians who directly address important public policy topics and such clearly stated opinions will then drive public opinion. Handled skillfully, climate change could become the breakout issue for many Republicans campaigning across America
GOP candidates must follow Trump’s lead, making use of reports such as those of the NIPCC, to clearly explain to the public that climate change is a natural phenomenon on which human influence is likely very small. Plans to cripple the coal industry, our most important source of cheap electricity, because of improbable climate concerns, is irrational and dangerous. It is immoral to destroy millions of jobs and harm America’s poor, minority, and working class families with soaring energy prices because of a questionable theory about future climate.
When it comes to energy and environment, its now or never for the United States, not to mention Canada and other nations which follow U.S. policy. Another four years like the past eight would be disastrous.