Commentary: How To Turn the Tide on Climate Change?

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

The data is not surprising.  A Washington Post-ABC News poll that sound that even though Americans are really starting to feel the impact of climate change, “American views about the threat of global warming over the past few years remain largely unchanged.”

Here’s the thing: “A clear majority of adults say that warming is a serious problem, but the share — 67 percent — is about the same as it was seven years ago, when alarms raised by climate scientists were less pronounced than they are now.”

The problem is the partisan split.  Democrats see climate change as an existential threat to the planet.  About 95 percent of them – up 11 percent.

At the same time, however, the share of Republicans who see climate change as a serious problem fell to 39 percent – down from 49 percent a few years earlier.

What in the world is going on here?  How can it be that just as we are seeing drastic effects of climate change that Republicans have actually declined in the numbers who believe that warming has already begun.  In 2017, 41 percent of Republicans told Gallup they believed that, now that number is 29 percent.

What is going is easily explained by political science.  It in fact all tracks back to 2017 when Donald Trump became president.  President Trump denied the existence of climate change and then proceeded to pull the US out of their agreements on GHG emission reduction.  But not only did he change US policy, he also started further shifting Republican opinion.

I have heard conservatives tell me that the problem here is that liberals and Democrats politicizing climate change.  But that’s not what the research tells us.  Political science tells us that most people subconsciously take their cues on politics from the leaders that they agree with.

So Democrats follow the opinion leadership of other Democrats and Republicans take their cues from Republicans.

When I was in graduate school for example, I studied the impact of elite opinion leadership on the Rally Effect.  Following 9/11, George W. Bush’s approval stood near 90 percent.  The whole country was largely behind his leadership in the early days.  But by the time the Iraq war rolled around, his opinion rated had fallen considerably and ended up around 50 percent by the time his reelection occurred.

What I posited and the research that me and my team did at the time showed, was that it was at the point where Democrats began criticizing White House policy that his opinion ratings returned to much closer to normal.  It was primarily Democrats dropping out of the rally in response to elite opinion that was in the media.

The probably we have with respect to Climate Change is a feedback loop on public opinion – ironically since Climate Change itself is a feedback loop for the climate.

Basically you have the rank and file conservatives and Republicans who responded to the President staking out a much stronger position against the existence of climate change than previous leaders in the Republican party.

The problem now is that with public support in the Republican camp decreasing for climate change intervention and believing that there is a problem – the leaders are responding to that – in a more conscious and concerted manner.

So how do you escape that feedback loop?  It takes the next leader and right now that seems to be Donald Trump himself.  He is probably in the short term the only person that can turn public opinion around on Climate Change.

Currently, 90 percent of Democrats believe that the feeral government should regulate greenhouse gases.

Republicans are almost evenly split at 47-46.

Independents in the meantime are at 73-21 with the US total population at 70-24.

Is that enough to act?  The current political split is evenly divided in the Senate and a narrow margin in the House.  The problem is that without Republican support, you have to deal with potential filibusters and even without filibusters, you have to convince Manchin from a Coal state to go against interest, that’s probably not going to happen.

Given that 56 percent of Republicans think that climate change is not a serious problem – that’s the number you have to flip to change US policy and that is going to take a Republican standing forward and acting, and in this climate… I just don’t see that happening.


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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2 thoughts on “Commentary: How To Turn the Tide on Climate Change?”

  1. Alan Miller

    Currently, 90 percent of Democrats believe that the feeral government should regulate greenhouse gases.

    For the entire planet?

    How To Turn the Tide on Climate Change?

    Short of nuking China*, I do not believe there is an answer.  Instead . . .

    Adapt.  Accept the end of the tide line as we know it.  Accept the inevitable death of billions.  Move to higher ground.  Move to higher elevation.  Grow your own food.  Buy a rocket launcher.  Just in case.

    *China burns over 50% of the world’s coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

    1. Keith Olson

      But Alan, China promised Gulfstream John Kerry that they would try and cut back on their coal usage.  Of course no deals or treaties were signed, but Xi promised.


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