Global Climate Change

The most recent Gallup Poll indicates that American voters have a lot to worry about. So many worries that voters don’t seem particularly concerned about climate change. That’s a problem because, in the long run, climate change is the most serious problem we face.

There’s abundant evidence about the climate change problem.  On July 7th, writing in the the New York Times ( https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/climate/climate-change-heat-wave.html) Henry Fountain observed: “The extraordinary heat wave that scorched the Pacific Northwest last week would almost certainly not have occurred without global warming, an international team of climate researchers said Wednesday. Temperatures were so extreme — including readings of 116 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Ore., and a Canadian record of 121 in British Columbia — that the researchers had difficulty saying just how rare the heat wave was. But they estimated that in any given year there was only a 0.1 percent chance of such an intense heat wave occurring.”

Nonetheless, in the June Gallup Poll (https://news.gallup.com/poll/351779/sharply-fewer-cite-covid-nation-top-problem.aspx ) of national problems, climate change was barely mentioned.  Respondents were most concerned about government (22 percent), followed by race relations (11 percent), immigration (9 percent), the economy (9 percent) and COVIDE-19 (8 percent).  As usual, there’s a partisan divide: Democrats (16 percent) are more concerned about race relations than are Republicans (3 percent), and Republicans (22 percent) are more concerned about immigration than are Democrats (3 percent).  And Democrats and Republicans see “government” through a different lens; Democrats are satisfied with President Biden and Republicans are not.  (Both parties are concerned about Congress.)

In the June Gallup Poll, climate change rated a measly 3 percent.  (The most recent You Gov poll (https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/trackers/most-important-issues-facing-the-us?) poll shows a higher number, 12.5 percent; still far from what one might reasonably expect.)

There are several explanations for climate change’s low problem rating.  The most likely explanation is that most poll respondents are overwhelmed by negative news and simply don’t have the attention span to deal with anything beyond the governmental crisis, race relations, economic turmoil, and the Coronavirus pandemic.  (An April Pew research study (https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/04/15/americans-views-of-the-problems-facing-the-nation/) indicated that most Americans (65 percent)  believe Climate Change is a serious problem just not as serious as the others.)

Another explanation is that Republicans, in general, do not take climate change seriously because their news sources do not.  During the Trump Administration, it was well known that Donald Trump did not regard climate change as a serious problem.  For this reason, the White House press secretary, and other administration press channels, did not talk about climate change.  In addition, for many years, Fox News (https://www.mediamatters.org/fox-news/2021-fox-news-still-spreading-dangerous-climate-denial ) has denigrated climate change and spread the lie that human activity is not overheating our climate.

Nonetheless, a majority of Americans believe that climate change is real (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/global-warming-perceptions-states-more-americans-accept-fault-n1265213 ).  A strong majority subscribe to the statement “global warming is mostly caused by human activities.”  Not surprisingly,  Democrats are much more likely to hold this belief.

While one explanation is that Democrats and Republicans subscribe to different news sources, another explanation is that their brains are wired differently.  There’s a growing body of neuroscience research that suggests that liberal brains are much more tolerant of ambiguity. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/conservative-and-liberal-brains-might-have-some-real-differences/) That finding has several consequences, one of which is that conservatives have a narrower span of attention, they tend to focus on only one or two political issues at a time.  At present that means that most Republicans focus on “government,” that is. a set of issues including Trump, “the big lie,” voting rights, and so forth.  In addition, they focus on “immigration,” that is the belief that the United States southern border is being invaded by Hispanic immigrants.  They do not focus on climate change because they don’t have the cognitive ability to handle an additional disturbing variable.  They are impaired.  (You probably already knew this.)

Someone has to lead.  Someone has to ensure that all of America’s problems are dealt with — not just the Fox News crisis du jour. That someone is President Biden.  He has to mount national programs to respond to climate change because the Republicans are incapable of doing this. Godspeed, Joe.