Hur­ri­canes strug­gle to sway opin­ions

Mon­ster storms ap­pear to have had lit­tle im­pact on views of politi­cians in US

Weekend Herald - - WORLD - Jen­nifer A. Dlouhy

Back- to- back hur­ri­canes fu­elled by warm At­lantic wa­ters may have al­tered the coasts of Texas and Florida, but there’s no in­di­ca­tion they are shift­ing the pol­i­tics of cli­mate change in the United States.

“We can­not ig­nore that car­bon emis­sions are caus­ing our ocean tem­per­a­tures to get warmer, which is fu­elling more pow­er­ful hur­ri­canes,” said Se­na­tor Kirsten Gil­li­brand, a Demo­crat from New York, at a lightly at­tended hear­ing on car­bon- cap­ture tech­nol­ogy.

Yet that is ex­actly what many are do­ing on an is­sue that in­creas­ingly breaks down along par­ti­san lines. Repub­li­cans in charge of the House and Se­nate haven’t sched­uled hear­ings to ex­am­ine the phe­nom­e­non. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has ig­nored shouted ques­tions on the topic and Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have brushed the whole is­sue aside as a dis­trac­tion.

Scott Pruitt, the head of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, told CNN it is “very, very in­sen­si­tive” to storm vic­tims to “have any kind of fo­cus on the cause and ef­fect of the storm ver­sus help­ing peo­ple.”

Re­search shows mon­ster storms may only harden peo­ple’s po­si­tion, un­der­scor­ing al­ready en­trenched be­liefs about the role hu­mans play in warm­ing the planet.

“The cli­mate move­ment can’t de­pend on the weather to make its po­lit­i­cal case,” said Robert Brulle, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at Drexel Univer­sity who stud­ies en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism. “We have a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to draw at­ten­tion to the is­sue — and then three weeks from now we’ll be talk­ing about some­thing else.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters have helped catal­yse the mod­ern- day eco­log­i­cal move­ment, shift­ing pub­lic views. But un­like cli­mate change, the causes were clearer; there was no need for sci­en­tists to in­ter­pret data or model sce­nar­ios.

It’s much harder to at­tack the sci­ence of an oil spill, Brulle said. “You can’t have a tac­tic of deny­ing the sci­ence when you can see it right there with your very eyes.”

Some en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists say hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma should be a wake- up call, vividly il­lus­trat­ing the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of ex­treme weather events made worse by cli­mate change. Sci­en­tists haven’t linked ei­ther hur­ri­cane di­rectly to cli­mate change — and they may never be able to — though they stress global warm­ing is lead­ing to more in­tense, more fre­quent storms. Decades into the de­bate over cli­mate change, peo­ple’s views on the sub­ject are tied up with their po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy. And it takes more than 300km/ h winds to change their be­liefs.

Peo­ple in ar­eas that have ex­pe­ri­enced ex­treme weather are only marginally more likely to sup­port cli­mate adap­tion poli­cies such as el­e­va­tion re­quire­ments and re­stric­tions on coastal de­vel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished in the this month’s i ssue of Global En­vi­ron­men­tal Change. In­stead, po­lit­i­cal party iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is a much big­ger fac­tor in how peo­ple viewed the is­sue, ac­cord­ing to the study that ex­am­ined pub­lic opin­ion data cou­pled with ge­o­graphic in­for­ma­tion about ex­treme weather events. And any changes in think­ing after ex­treme weather are likely to be tem­po­rary.

“There was no dis­cernible dif­fer­ence after a month be­tween peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced more ex­treme weather and those who did not,” Llewe­lyn Hughes, a pro­fes­sor at Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, and David Konisky, a pro­fes­sor at In­di­ana Univer­sity, said in a Wash­ing­ton Post es­say describing their re­search. “Even though events like Hur­ri­cane Irma are tragic, it may very well be that peo­ple tend to forget about them quite quickly and get on with the rest of their lives.”

Re­searchers also have found that liv­ing through a dis­as­ter changes the way peo­ple think — ef­fec­tively mak­ing them more scep­ti­cal of lead­ers and less open- minded. A 2011 study of Hon­duran vil­lages hit by Hur­ri­cane Mitch in 1998 found that se­vere dam­age re­duces peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to work to­gether.

There are also par­al­lels to the gun con­trol de­bate, which didn’t dram- at­i­cally shift after shoot­ings of school­child­ren in Con­necti­cut and a con­gress­man in Vir­ginia. In both cases, “there i s a very pow­er­ful spe­cial in­ter­est in­flu­ence group” that has ef­fec­tively squelched de­bate, Demo­crat Se­na­tor Shel­don White­house said in an in­ter­view.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, a Demo­crat, made fight­ing cli­mate change a sig­na­ture pol­icy of his Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Trump and Repub­li­cans in Congress have sought to roll back those ef­forts.

Some en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates may be wary of be­ing seen as ex­ploit­ing a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter for longterm pol­icy changes when home­own­ers are still rip­ping sod­den car­pet from their floors and util­i­ties are still work­ing to re­store elec­tric­ity.

White­house says there is plenty of time to talk about the i ssue as law­mak­ers de­bate hur­ri­cane­spend­ing re­lief pack­ages and storm­rav­aged cities re­build.

“We should be talk­ing about this is­sue on a reg­u­lar ba­sis; I don’t think there is a key mo­ment in which we have to say it or we lose the op­por­tu­nity,” White­house said.

Ex­treme weather events could pro­vide an open­ing to GOP law­mak­ers — par­tic­u­larly those in af­fected states — to jus­tify or ex­plain a shift in how they ap­proach the is­sue, said Joseph Ma­jkut, di­rec­tor of cli­mate sci­ence at the Niska­nen Cen­tre, a lib­er­tar­ian think­tank. “I don’t ex­pect any one storm is go­ing to change the de­bate on cli­mate, which is now sort of so­phis­ti­cated and en­trenched,” Ma­jkut said. “I do think it can make a dif­fer­ence at the mar­gins, so one thing to watch for will be in­di­vid­ual mem­bers, in­di­vid­ual districts and how much of a role it might play in 2018.” rab­bits to 15 com­mu­ni­ties as part of a trial. Maduro re­counted to laugh­ter from as­sem­bled min­is­ters: “When he re­turned, sur­prise! The peo­ple had the bun­nies with lit­tle bows and they were keep­ing them as pets.”

Ber­nal blamed a “cul­tural prob­lem”, say­ing: “A lot of peo­ple give names to rab­bits, put on a bow, they take the rab­bit to sleep in their bed.”

But, he said, Venezue­lans needed to ad­just their at­ti­tudes to­wards rab­bits and see them “from the point of view of the eco­nomic war”.

He added: “We need a pub­lic­ity cam­paign so that the peo­ple un­der­stand that rab­bits aren’t pets but twoand- a- half ki­los of meat.”

Hen­rique Capriles, an op­po­si­tion leader, said: “You are those re­spon­si­ble for this food cri­sis. If you can’t solve this prob­lem then go once and for all,” he said.

A sur­vey this year in­di­cated that 75 per cent of Venezue­lans have lost an av­er­age of 8.6kg as the coun­try plunges into eco­nomic col­lapse.

Llewe­lyn Hughes and David Konisky

Pic­ture / AP

Irma, the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane ever recorded in the open At­lantic, wreaked havoc on Cuba.

Ni­co­las Maduro

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.