While 62 percent of Americans say that they believe climate change is a factor driving recent natural disasters and extreme weather—probably a higher percentage than in Congress—49 percent also believe they are caused by "Biblical end times," with an especially high number of white evangelicals holding that belief. That's according to a new survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute, which queried people on the intersection of their religious faith and their beliefs about climate change. And it found dramatic differences between people expressing different faith beliefs.
Overall, it found that while a majority of respondents were sympathetic to the cause of fighting climate change, it wasn't at the top of their minds. Only 5 percent said it was "the most important issue" facing the U.S., well behind issues like lack of jobs (22 percent), income inequality (18 percent) and health care (17 percent). And it seemed as if most people treated it as an "out of sight, out of mind" issue, looking only at the direct impact on their own lives. More people identified the symptoms of climate change such as air and water pollution, water shortages, drought and diminishing wilderness areas as the most pressing environmental problem, rather than climate change itself. And far more people believed it would have a greater impact in poorer, far-away countries than in the U.S or on themselves.
The survey sorted its respondents into three groups: "believers," "sympathizers" and "skeptics"—46 percent, 25 percent and 26 percent respectively, with a handful failing to provide information. The believers think that climate change is happening and is human-drive; sympathizers believe it is happening as a result of natural forces and skeptics don't think it is happening at all.
The self-centeredness continued when skeptics were asked why they thought climate change wasn't happening. "Answers varied considerably, but the most frequently cited reason (33 percent of all open-ended answers) was that they have not noticed a change in the weather around them," the study said.
Responses among religious groups vary, bookended by Hispanic Catholics and white Catholics at the far ends of the scale. With minorities, both black and Hispanic, registering a far higher concern about climate change than white respondents, Hispanic Catholics had by far the highest level of concern, with 43 percent saying they are "very concerned" and another 30 percent saying they are "somewhat concerned." Among the religiously unaffiliated, black Protestants, non-Christian religious and Jews, those vert concerned and somewhat concerned combine top 50 percent. But among white mainline Protestants, it drops to 43 percent, and only 35 percent of white evangelical Protestants expressing any level of concern. Forty-one percent of white Catholics express some concern, although the number saying they are "very concerned" is the lowest of all groups, at 17 percent.
While 54 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are often in conflict, 59 percent say it doesn't conflict with their own religious beliefs. Nearly 6-in-10 (59 percent) Americans say that science does not conflict with their religious beliefs, and 38 percent say that it does. And that raises the question of which do you adjust: your religious belief or your trust in science? More people are saying that science needs to be tossed out before their religious beliefs. That 49 percent who believe that recent climate change-driven natural disasters are the result of the approaching Biblical "end times" has risen from 44 percent in 2011 to the current 49 percent.
Most likely to hold that opinion? No surprise—it's white evangelical protestants who say that Biblical "end times" rather than climate change is driving the severity of recent natural disasters severity of recent natural disasters to the biblical “end times” 77 percent to 49 percent (The overlap is presumably those who think both are responsible).
There's some sort-of good news though:
"Americans generally reject the idea that God intended humans to use the earth strictly for their own benefit. Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) Americans say God gave humans the task of living responsibly with animals, plants and other resources, which are not just for human benefit. By contrast, about one-third (35 percent) of Americans believe that God gave human beings the right to use animals, plants and all other resources of the planet solely for their own benefit."
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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