CLI­MATE CHANGE CAR­NI­VAL BARK­ERS

Polls show a par­ti­san di­vide on cli­mate change. But there’s more agree­ment than you may think

Newsweek International - - CLIMATE CHANGE - BY NICOLE GOODKIND

As Hur­ri­cane Florence took hold of the Caroli­nas in mid-septem­ber, par­ti­san talk swirled like the winds. House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for lis­ten­ing to “naysay­ers” who don’t want to tran­si­tion to clean en­ergy. Fos­sil fu­els, she told re­porters, ab­so­lutely con­trib­uted to the sever­ity of the hur­ri­cane: “This is some­thing that we have to look at in a big way, and it’s not served by de­nial of the facts.”

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore weighed in from a cli­mate con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco. “Ev­ery night on the tele­vi­sion news is like a na­ture hike through the Book of Rev­e­la­tion, and we’ve got to con­nect the dots be­tween the cause and the ef­fect,” he said. “Some peo­ple ev­i­dently can still deny the re­al­ity [of cli­mate change]—it’s a lit­tle bit harder to deny the 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico from Hur­ri­cane Maria last year.”

Rush Lim­baugh used his ra­dio show to fight back against what he called fear­mon­ger­ing. “This is made to or­der for the cli­mate change–global warm­ing crowd,” he said. “Hur­ri­canes and hur­ri­cane fore­cast­ing is like much else that the left has got­ten its hands on, and they politi­cize these things.”

He’s right, at any rate, that the topic is deeply politi­cized. A re­cent Gallup poll showed a gap­ing par­ti­san di­vide on en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy: 69 per­cent of Repub­li­cans were sat­is­fied with the cur­rent state of the en­vi­ron­ment, while 67 per­cent of Democrats were dis­sat­is­fied.

All of this feeds a self-per­pet­u­at­ing nar­ra­tive that Amer­i­cans’ views on cli­mate change are split di­rectly down the aisle—and are ir­rec­on­cil­able.

“You’ve got the Democrats who run out there and blame a spe­cific weather event on cli­mate change, and then you have some­one like Repub­li­can Se­na­tor Jim In­hofe who will throw a snow­ball in the Se­nate to prove cli­mate change isn’t real,” says Ford O’con­nell, a Repub­li­can strate­gist and for­mer Mc­cain-palin pres­i­den­tial cam­paign ad­viser. “Both sides call up the car­ni­val bark­ers, and noth­ing gets done.”

But Democrats and Repub­li­cans have more in com­mon than they might think.

A July 2018 study by Leaf van Boven, a psy­chol­ogy and neu­ro­science pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Colorado Boul­der, and his Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara, col­league David Sher­man found that most Repub­li­cans do be­lieve that cli­mate change is oc­cur­ring. The sur­veyed group also said hu­man ac­tiv­ity is largely re­spon­si­ble for it, it threat­ens hu­mans, and re­duc­ing green­house

gas emis­sions would help curb it.

Re­cent polls back those find­ings. The Univer­sity of Michi­gan and Muh­len­berg Col­lege found in May that a record 73 per­cent of all Amer­i­cans be­lieve there is “solid ev­i­dence” of cli­mate change, while 60 per­cent think that cli­mate change “is hap­pen­ing” and that hu­mans are “at least par­tially re­spon­si­ble for ris­ing tem­per­a­tures.” A May study from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found that 59 per­cent of Amer­i­cans said cli­mate change was cur­rently af­fect­ing their lo­cal com­mu­nity.

“I think this sum­mer may have been a tip­ping point in the pub­lic con­scious­ness,” Michael Mann, di­rec­tor of the Earth Sys­tem Sci­ence Cen­ter at Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity, says. “The im­pacts of cli­mate change are no longer sub­tle. They’re star­ing us in the face.”

Man-made cli­mate change is a re­al­ity that sci­en­tists have been warn­ing about for decades, but the deadly on­slaught of hur­ri­canes Maria, Irma and Har­vey last year, fol­lowed by this year’s Hur­ri­cane Florence, has made the prob­lem per­sonal, says Eric Holthaus, me­te­o­rol­o­gist and staff writer at Grist, an en­vi­ron­men­tal news web­site. “At this point, we should look at it as a hu­man prob­lem, not a sci­en­tific prob­lem. Florence is af­fect­ing both Repub­li­cans and Democrats in North Carolina,” he says.

Still, there’s a dis­con­nect be­tween pri­vately held views and po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing, the Van Boven study in­di­cated. When sur­veyed, both Democrats and Repub­li­cans un­der­es­ti­mated Repub­li­cans’ be­lief in cli­mate change. The study sug­gested that the dis­crep­an­cies are likely the re­sult of a me­dia land­scape that em­pha­sizes con­flict.

These am­pli­fied per­cep­tions of par­ti­san dif­fer­ences are self-ful­fill­ing. In other words, Repub­li­cans don’t sup­port cli­mate pol­icy be­cause they don’t think other Repub­li­cans sup­port cli­mate pol­icy, or be­cause they think Democrats do.

“Our re­search sug­gests that Democrats and Repub­li­cans are driven by par­ti­san­ship be­cause they be­lieve that their fel­low Democrats or Repub­li­cans are even more driven by par­ti­san­ship— and they don’t want to break across the party line,” says Van Boven. “Be­cause peo­ple think oth­ers are ex­tremely par­ti­san on cli­mate change, they are more par­ti­san them­selves, and this makes it harder to reach across the aisle.”

Bob Inglis, a six-term GOP rep­re­sen­ta­tive from South Carolina’s 4th Dis­trict, long hewed to his party's line on cli­mate change. The over­whelm­ing sci­en­tific con­sen­sus that the planet was heat­ing up due to hu­man ac­tion, he thought, was a bunch of “hooey.” Inglis tells he didn’t un­der­stand the sci­ence be­hind it, and he didn’t care to. “All I knew was that Al Gore was for it, and so I was against it,” he says.

He’s not the only one with that re­ac­tion. The sci­en­tific jar­gon in­volved in dis­cus­sions of cli­mate change pol­icy may make the topic more vul­ner­a­ble to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure. “When peo­ple don’t know much about an is­sue, and they’re strong par­ti­sans, they tend to lis­ten to their lead­ers,” says An­thony Leis­erowitz, di­rec­tor of the Yale Project on Cli­mate Change at the univer­sity’s School of Forestry and En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies. “And if lead­ers say it’s a hoax, peo­ple be­lieve it’s a hoax.”

But Inglis joined the House Com­mit­tee on Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy in 2004, and on a con­gres­sional trip to Antarc­tica, he saw the ice­berg drillings that in­di­cated a rapid in­crease in at­mo­spheric car­bon diox­ide, a heat-trap­ping gas that warms the planet. In Aus­tralia, he vis­ited the Great Bar­rier Reef and saw coral bleach­ing up close, an­other sign of ris­ing tem­per­a­tures.

In 2009, Inglis in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to im­pose a rev­enue-neu­tral car­bon tax on pro­duc­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of fos­sil fu­els. But his sci­en­tific awak­en­ing came at a price: In 2010, a Tea Party can­di­date, Trey Gowdy, chal­lenged him in the Repub­li­can pri­mary, and Inglis lost his seat.

“The most en­dur­ing heresy was just say­ing that cli­mate change was real,” he told Cli­matewire af­ter his loss. “That was the one that was most dam­ag­ing, I’m con­vinced. For many con­ser­va­tives, it be­came the marker that you had crossed to Satan’s side—that you had left God and gone to Satan’s side on cli­mate change.”

The con­se­quences of cli­mate change threaten mem­bers of both par­ties, and the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship knows this, Inglis tells Newsweek: They just have trou­ble act­ing on it. When he was in Congress, “there was al­ways some­one who would try to si­lence any­one who spoke out about cli­mate change,” he says. “But pri­vately, Repub­li­cans re­al­ize we need to do some­thing.”

The prob­lem, says GOP strate­gist O’con­nell, is that in solidly red states a lot of jobs rely on the en­ergy in­dus­try. Repub­li­cans think they can’t be re-elected if they tell their con­stituents, “Let’s kill your jobs,” he says.

Pre­vent­ing cli­mate change isn’t an easy thing to cam­paign on in any case,

says Greg Car­lock, se­nior ad­viser at Data for Progress, a lib­eral think tank, and au­thor of the “Green New Deal,” a pro­gres­sive pack­age of pol­icy ini­tia­tives that at­tempt to achieve en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity. “There is not a great feed­back loop be­tween in­vest­ments in cli­mate change and re­siliency be­cause it’s a long-term thing,” he says. “It’s dif­fi­cult to turn that into a cam­paign mes­sage.”

But there’s no ne­go­ti­at­ing with a hur­ri­cane. “The cli­mate sys­tem doesn’t care if you’re a Repub­li­can or a Demo­crat,” says Leis­erowitz. “You’re see­ing some Repub­li­cans step­ping up to say that they can no longer deny re­al­ity and ‘If we don’t do some­thing, Democrats are go­ing to use their pro­pos­als in­stead of ours.’” The sup­port from the Repub­li­can base is there, but lead­ers need to fol­low suit, he adds.

Af­ter Inglis lost his re-elec­tion cam­paign, he founded re­pub­li­cen, an ad­vo­cacy group for free-en­ter­prise so­lu­tions to cli­mate change. “When I in­tro­duced that bill in 2009, there were no groups to come and rally in fa­vor of it,” he says. He wants to change that.

In July, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Car­los Curbelo, a Florida Repub­li­can, in­tro­duced a car­bon tax bill; his Mi­ami-area dis­trict in­cludes the Florida Keys, which have been rav­aged by storms and ris­ing sea lev­els. “I truly be­lieve that one day this bill, or leg­is­la­tion sim­i­lar to it, will be­come law,” he said at a fo­rum in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “It will spark an im­por­tant de­bate about in­vest­ing in our coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture, the way we tax and what to do to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.” Inglis is now work­ing to rally Repub­li­can sup­port on its be­half. Progress is slow, but it’s there. Dur­ing a 2014 North Carolina GOP Se­nate de­bate, a sim­ple ques­tion was posed to all four can­di­dates: Is cli­mate change a fact? The au­di­ence laughed, and the re­sponses took all of 14 sec­onds: “No,” “No,” “No” and “No.”

This Au­gust, North Carolina Se­na­tor Thom Til­lis, who won that 2014 pri­mary, sat down with a lo­cal Char­lottesville news sta­tion to ex­plain that hu­man fac­tors do af­fect cli­mate change and to ad­vo­cate for poli­cies to ad­dress the is­sue.

“I think we have to come up with sev­eral strate­gies to rec­og­nize re­al­ity,” he said. “We’re go­ing to have to adapt.”

MELT­DOWN As the ice melts off the western Antarc­tic penin­sula and seas rise, the re­al­ity of cli­mate change is harder to ig­nore in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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