New Pew Survey: Americans Are Noticing the Effects of Climate Change and They Want Action
Significant majorities of Americans are seeing the impacts of climate change on their communities and don't think that the U.S. government is doing enough to combat it, according to the results of the latest survey by the Pew Research Center, reported Monday.
Some highlights of the comprehensive national survey on environmental attitudes, taken by 2,541 adults between March 27 and April 9, are outlined below.
1. Government (In)action:
More than a year into the Trump administration's push to weaken environmental regulations, a large majority of Americans think the federal government is not taking sufficient action on a variety of environmental issues. Sixty-nine percent of Americans think the government is not doing enough to protect water quality, 67 percent say the government is not doing enough to fight climate change, 64 percent think the government is not doing enough to combat air pollution, 63 percent think the government is not doing enough to protect animals and their habitats and 57 percent think the government is not doing enough to protect public lands and national parks.
2. Personal Impacts
More than three-quarters of Americans said that climate change was already impacting the U.S. as a whole, either some or a great deal, and 59 percent said that it was impacting their local communities. Thirty-one percent said that changes in the climate were directly impacting their personal lives. Of those who did say it was impacting their communities, 45 percent said the impacts were due to extreme weather events like storms, flooding, droughts and wildfires.
3. Partisan Divide ...
The Pew survey confirmed the results of other recent surveys that indicate a partisan divide on the climate change opinions of U.S. citizens. While the Pew survey found that 53 percent of Americans overall think that climate change is caused by human actions, that percentage changes dramatically when the question is asked just of liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans. Eighty-three percent of liberal Democrats blame human activity for global warming, while only 18 percent of conservative Republicans agree. When it comes to energy policy, 73 percent of conservative Republicans favor offshore oil drilling versus 16 percent of liberal Democrats; similar divides exist for increasing coal mining (70 percent vs. 13 percent) and increasing fracking (67 percent vs. 17 percent.)
4. … Except on Renewable Energy
One point of political unity comes in support for expanding the use of renewable energy sources. Ninety-six percent of liberal Democrats and 80 percent of conservative Republicans favor expanding solar panel farms, and 93 percent of liberal Democrats and 71 percent of conservative Republicans support expanding wind turbine farms.
5. Conservative Generation Gap
The survey also offered hope that the partisan divide might shrink as time goes on. That is because many more Millennial Republicans are wary of fossil fuels compared to their Baby-Boomer-or-older counterparts. Only 44 percent of Millennial Republicans favor offshore-drilling, compared to 75 percent of older Republicans, only 43 percent support coal mining and 47 support fracking. Younger Republicans are also more likely to assign a human explanation for climate change, at 36 percent, and more likely to think the government is not doing enough to fight climate change, at 47 percent compared to 27 percent of Baby Boomers or older. A majority of Millennial Republicans actually think the government is doing too little to protect water (at 59 percent) and animals (at 60 percent).
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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