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Romantic Partners Can Influence Each Other’s Assumptions and Behaviors on Climate Change, Study Finds

Yale Study Finds Just 38% Climate Belief Similarity Between Partners

Climate
A couple stand on a sandbar at low tide at Grays Beach in Yarmouth, Massachusetts in 2019, as effects of climate change are apparent in the beach’s erosion. John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Romantic partners can be the sounding boards for each other’s thoughts on all sorts of issues, including the climate crisis. But, until recently, there hadn’t been much examination of whether one partner’s views on climate change could influence the other’s.

A research team led by the Yale School of the Environment’s Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) conducted a survey and found that conversations between romantic partners can have an influence on each other’s climate change beliefs.

Romantic partners can be the sounding boards for each other’s thoughts on all sorts of issues, including the climate crisis. But, until recently, there hadn’t been much examination of whether one partner’s views on climate change could influence the other’s.

A research team led by the Yale School of the Environment’s Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) conducted a survey and found that conversations between romantic partners can have an influence on each other’s climate change beliefs.

“We wanted to see if there’s potential for couples to increase support for pro-climate policies and behaviors through more conversations about climate change,” said associate research scientist at the YPCCC Matthew Goldberg, who was the lead author on the study, a press release from the Yale School of the Environment said.

The study, “Perceptions and correspondence of climate change beliefs and behavior among romantic couples,” was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

For their research, the team asked 758 romantic couples questions to find out how much they understood one another’s viewpoints on climate change and how much their perceptions aligned.

Questions posed to each partner included whether they post about climate change on social media or donate to climate organizations, and if they’re concerned about climate change. Participants were then asked to speculate on what their partner’s responses would be.

The results of the survey showed that partners had some similarities in their behaviors and beliefs on the subject of climate change, but that there was also a great deal of disagreement.

The study found that climate behaviors lined up in just 31 percent of the couples, and only 38 percent of them held similar climate beliefs. Couples who discussed climate change were found to have a truer understanding of each other’s climate ideology. This indicated discussions about climate change could be an opportunity to impact each other’s beliefs on the subject.

Goldberg told The Daily Beast that it wasn’t common for individuals to discuss climate change with family and friends even if it was a subject they were passionate about.

A framework called Global Warming’s Six Americas was used by the researchers to categorize the climate change beliefs of the survey participants into six categories: alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful or dismissive.

The results showed that while it was very rare for partners to have completely opposing views on climate change, in more than a third of couples the beliefs of one partner were categorized as “alarmed,” while the other partner was somewhat less concerned or engaged, the press release said.

“When we found that it was common for one partner to be alarmed about climate change and the other partner only moderately concerned, that showed us that there is indeed substantial room for pro-climate influence among romantic partners,” Goldberg said to The Daily Beast.

Communication between partners is a powerful way to help each other engage with the climate crisis in a way that is more personal than media or the internet.

“Mass communication is critical but might not be the most effective way to shift public support on climate change,” said Goldberg in the press release. “A partner knows their partner infinitely better than some unknown communicator — and knows how to harness the issues that their partner cares about to engage them in action on climate change.”

The findings of the study could be also useful in helping people engage with the issue of climate change in relationships other than romantic ones, Goldberg said.

“Lots of people are very worried about climate change, but they’re not talking about it,” Goldberg said. “Discussing climate change can bring more people into alignment — and increase engagement.”

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Temporary security fencing surrounds the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2022. STEFANI REYNOLDS / AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court has restricted the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fight the climate crisis

In a 6 to 3 ruling on Thursday, the nation’s highest court ruled that the Clean Air Agency does not empower the EPA to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants without prior Congressional approval. Yet the decision comes on the heels of a global sweep of early heat waves that have made the necessity of climate action ever more apparent. 

The Supreme Court has restricted the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fight the climate crisis

In a 6 to 3 ruling on Thursday, the nation’s highest court ruled that the Clean Air Agency does not empower the EPA to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants without prior Congressional approval. Yet the decision comes on the heels of a global sweep of early heat waves that have made the necessity of climate action ever more apparent. 

“Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” Justice Elana Kagan wrote in a scathing dissent. “And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”

The decision could have wide-ranging implications for the federal government’s ability to regulate not just greenhouse gas emissions but other matters of public and environmental health, yet it all revolves around a policy that is no longer in place. 

The initial case, West Virginia v. EPA, was a response to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan requiring states to reduce power emissions by transitioning away from coal plants, as AP News explained. West Virginia and other Republican-led states argued that the EPA should not be able to impose a major economic shift by targeting coal plants without the say-so of elected officials, as The Guardian explained. The Supreme Court blocked the plan from going into effect while the lawsuits continued, and the Trump administration’s EPA then jettisoned it entirely and took a more limited approach, according to AP News. This, in turn, was challenged by mostly Democratic states and struck down by a federal appeals court in Washington. In the end, market forces ultimately achieved the emissions reductions that the Obama administration had sought with its initial plan, as coal plants shut down on their own.

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency is a case about an environmental regulation that no longer exists, that never took effect, and that would not have accomplished very much if it had taken effect,” Vox’s Ian Millhiser wrote.

Yet the decision could have major impacts for the regulatory state. In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed that major social or economic shifts should be dictated by Congress, not federal agencies. 

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” he wrote. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme. A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”

The decision was entirely along ideological lines, with the five other conservative judges siding with Roberts and the two other liberals siding with Kagan, as CNBC reported. 

The Biden administration has set a goal of eliminating power sector emissions — which are currently around 30 percent of the U.S. total — by 2035, according to AP News. Its plan to actually deal with those emissions is supposed to be completed by the end of this year.

“This is another devastating decision from the Court that aims to take our country backwards,” White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan said in a statement reported by Reuters. “While the Court’s decision risks damaging our ability to keep our air clean and combat climate change, President Biden will not relent in using the authorities that he has under law to protect public health and tackle the climate change crisis.”

The decision also comes as Congress has consistently failed to enact meaningful climate legislation, as a recent attempt was stymied by Republican Senators and Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, The Guardian noted. 

“By insisting instead that an agency can promulgate an important and significant climate rule only by showing ‘clear congressional authorization’ at a time when the court knows that Congress is effectively dysfunctional, the court threatens to upend the national government’s ability to safeguard the public health and welfare at the very moment when the United States, and all nations, are facing our greatest environmental challenge of all: climate change,” Harvard law professor Richard Lazarus told The New York Times.

The decision is part of a broader trend by the current court to limit the regulatory authority of federal agencies. In recent decisions, it also shot down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ability to halt evictions during the coronavirus pandemic and the ability of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to enforce COVID-19 vaccination mandates for large employers. 

“This court in one term has basically dismantled the administrative state,” City University of New York law professor Rebecca Bratspies told Vox.

In response to the ruling, environmental groups urged both the EPA and Congress to keep working to reduce emissions. 

“EPA has no choice. It must make do with the authority it retains to quickly advance as robust a set of power plant standards as it can,” Union of Concerned Scientists President Johanna Chao Kreilick said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “However, climate action cannot stop there. Congress must expeditiously enact robust and equitable clean energy and climate legislation. As the mounting toll borne by communities across the country and around the world makes clear, climate change is here, today, and there’s no time left to waste.”

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The aftermath of wildfires in Evia island, Greece in August 2021. Nicolas Economou / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Even if global temperatures start to decrease, after peaking this century due to climate change, biodiversity risks are likely to persist for decades, a new study by London’s Global University (UCL) and University of Cape Town researchers finds. The potential impacts on biodiversity were modeled against pre-industrial levels if temperatures increased by more than 2°C (35.6°F), before beginning to fall again.

Climate change and all of its anthropomorphic influences are already facing a biodiversity crisis, with mass dieoffs — such as hundreds of migratory birds falling out of the sky in the Southwest in 2020. Altered reproductive events and species distributions are also among existing ill impacts.

Even if global temperatures start to decrease, after peaking this century due to climate change, biodiversity risks are likely to persist for decades, a new study by London’s Global University (UCL) and University of Cape Town researchers finds. The potential impacts on biodiversity were modeled against pre-industrial levels if temperatures increased by more than 2°C (35.6°F), before beginning to fall again.

Climate change and all of its anthropomorphic influences are already facing a biodiversity crisis, with mass dieoffs — such as hundreds of migratory birds falling out of the sky in the Southwest in 2020. Altered reproductive events and species distributions are also among existing ill impacts.

In 2015, the Paris agreement was signed in an attempt to reduce global warming below 2°C. Since greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, many scientific models now analyze decades-long overshoots of this limit. The effects of potential carbon dioxide removal technology were also factored into this model, targeting the offset of harmful temperature increases by 2100. 

A Return to Pre-Overshoot ‘Normal’ Is Uncertain at Best

Researchers studied more than 30,000 species in habitats globally and discovered that for a quarter of the areas examined, the chances of reversing the damage to pre-overshoot “normal” are either nonexistent or uncertain.

“We found that huge numbers of animal species will continue to endure unsafe conditions for decades after the global temperature peak,” said co-author Dr. Alex Pigot (UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, UCL Biosciences). “Even if we collectively manage to reverse global warming before species are irreversibly lost from ecosystems, the ecological disruption caused by unsafe temperatures could well persist for an additional half century or more.”

Researchers also looked at the possibility of CO2 emissions continuing to grow until 2040, then dipping after 2070 due to carbon cut efforts and carbon dioxide removal technology deployment. That means for several decades during this century, global temperatures would breach 2°C but fall after 2100. Researchers analyzed how quickly a species in any given location may become exposed to harmful temperatures, how long that would persist, the numbers of species it would affect and whether or not any return to “normal” were possible.

Most Species in Tropical Regions Threatened With Volatile Conditions

For most locations, dangerous temperature exposure will occur suddenly as species are pushed outside their thermal niche limits. Researchers also found that any return to comfortable thermal niches for these species would be gradual, lagging drastically behind global temperature decrease — due to volatile climatic conditions and impacts on ecosystems. The overshoot for biodiversity risks was determined to range from 100 to 130 years, twice longer than the actual temperature overshoot.

Regions facing the most impact include tropical locations for more than 90% of species in the Central Indian Ocean, the Indo-Pacific, Northern Australia and Northern Sub-Saharan Africa, all pushed beyond their thermal niches. In the Amazon, the team found more than half of all species will be exposed to volatile climate conditions. For almost 19% of all locations examined, including the Amazon, uncertainty surrounds the potential of returning to pre-overshoot levels; while 8% of regions may never return to those levels. The globe may likely face irreversible species extinction and ecosystem transformations.

Avoiding Temperature Offshoot Takes Priority

“Our findings are stark,” said co-author Christopher Trisos (African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town). “They should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse.”

Carbon dioxide removal technologies and nature-based solutions, such as afforestation, are also associated with potential negative impacts, shared lead co-author Dr. Joanne Bentley (African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town). Dr. Bentley warned that if the 2°C global warming target is overshot, the loss of biodiversity could compromise the ecosystem services humanity relies on for its livelihood. She advised that avoiding temperature overshoot should be the top priority, then limiting the magnitude and duration of any overshoot.

The research was funded by a collaboration between the African Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society. The paper was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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