Americans desperately need to find common ground and climate science may prove to be a catalyst that helps to bring people together. Despite deep divisions there is reason to believe that the environment is a shared concern that can foster unity. We are seeing increasing support for climate action in the U.S. including the Green New Deal This is due at least in part to COVID-19. A poll from the Yale Program for Climate Communication indicated that 70 percent of voters favor federal stimulus funding for clean energy rather than fossil fuels. In 2019 it was becoming clear that Americans were increasingly at odds with their government on climate action and in 2020 climate change was a ballot box issue that contributed to president-elect Joe Biden’s decisive victory.
Prior to the election an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated that 58 percent of registered voters thought that Biden would address the climate problem better than President Trump (only 19 percent indicated they think Trump would be better at managing the climate crisis than Biden).
A Pew Research Center poll release in April suggested that the majority of Americans think climate action should be a top priority for the president and the Congress. This is the highest level of support for climate action in the survey’s nearly 20-year history. Another Pew poll released at the end of June indicates that almost two-thirds of voters think the federal government is not doing enough to mitigate climate change. Roughly 79 percent of Americans said the U.S. should make developing alternative sources of energy like wind and solar a priority.
However, support for climate action has been impeded by a steady barrage of disinformation coming from the fossil fuel industry, the GOP and Trump. We cannot understand resistance to climate action without appreciating the power of the president’s bully pulpit. Climate denial was a defining feature of his mendacious presidency. “I don’t believe it,” Trump said in response to a question about the federal government’s report on climate change. “It’s not based on facts,” asserted Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Trump’s symbiotic relationship with the fossil fuel industry led him to declare war on nature and this had a dramatic impact. In his first year in office, the proportion of Republicans who believed that global warming is caused by human activity, and that it has already begun, dropped from 40 percent to 33 percent. Vast numbers of Americans have fallen prey to outlandish conspiracies. Disinformation from Trump, the fossil fuel industry and Republicans have made the United States a bastion of climate denial.
The fossil fuel industry has known that they are the leading cause of climate change for decades yet rather than come clean they have used their immense wealth and power to buy politicians and political outcomes. They disseminate multiple streams of disinformation in a cynical bid to protect their profits.
Students are on the front lines of their climate disinformation efforts. The fossil fuel industry is behind an initiative to prevent children from getting a science-based education and they actively work to deny students access to the facts about climate change. Using front-groups like the Heartland Institute they target kids with disinformation by giving them free text-books chalk-full of climate omissions and outright lies. Their disinformation efforts have even succeeded in preventing teachers from sharing climate science.
The fossil fuel industry has bought the Republican party and together they sew a webs of climate deception. Despite this malfeasance, there is reason for optimism as the polls suggest that Americans are increasingly rejecting the GOP’s disinformation. Republicans subterfuge is being exposed including the argument that suggests Americans cannot afford to act on climate change (fact based analyses convincing reveal that climate action far outweighs the cost of inaction). The COVID-19 pandemic has also helped many Americans to appreciate the importance of science. In 2018 it was already apparent that Republicans were growing apart from the president on this issue.
Even evangelicals appear to be slowly softening their resistance to climate action. As reported by Religion News, only 32 percent of white evangelical Protestants see global warming as a very serious problem (that is still 7 percent higher than the 25 percent of Republicans who accept the veracity of the climate crisis). In 2013 only 17 percent of white evangelicals saw climate change as a serious problem. This movement towards a slightly more fact based appreciation of climate change may be due to young evangelicals who appear to be less dogmatic than their parents.
Strategies that bridge the political divide and communicate science appear to be having an impact. Polls reveal that increasing numbers of Americans acknowledge the veracity of climate change and this may one day force Republicans to embrace the facts and perhaps even help unite a sorely divided nation.
Small Business Owners Support Climate Action
Infographic – Growing Belief in Global Warming by State (Even Among Republicans!)
The US is More Accepting of Climate Change (2012)
Extreme Weather is Causing More Americans to Accept Climate Change and Call for Government Action (2012)
The Stark Partisan Divide on Global Warming (2012)
Earth Day Poll Shows the Environment is Important (2012)
US Citizens Want Government Action on the Environment (2012)
US Environmental Attitudes 2007 – 2012
Environmental Gap Narrowing Between Democrats and Republicans (2012)
Republicans at Odds with American Public on Climate Change (2012)
The US is More Accepting of Climate Change (2012)