Turns out you can fool some of the people all of the time — if those people are conservatives.
I have previously argued “The deniers are winning, especially with the GOP,” which received more than 500 comments. Now Environment magazine has published an analysis that suggests the deniers are winning only with the GOP. This analysis should be especially alarming to scientists.
Is Global Warming Occurring? As Figure 1 shows, despite the steadily growing observational evidence that global warming has begun — indeed that it is occurring faster than expected — Republicans have actually been less than oblivious. The global cooling lie has worked — with the GOP.
[All of the figures here come from Gallup polling over the past decade. Blue is dem, Red is GOP. Click to enlarge.]
That shouldn’t be too surprising, I guess, since the disinformation campaign aimed at blocking climate action comes primarily from the conservative movement itself: “A significant part of the U.S. conservative movement–made up of conservative foundations, think tanks, media, and public intellectuals–mobilized in the 1990s to challenge both climate science and climate policy.” For more on this, see Naomi Oreskes’ excellent lecture titled, “The American Denial of Global Warming.”
Needless to say, those denial sources have more credibility with conservatives, so it is only natural that so many Republicans have been duped. Indeed, some conservatives simply adopt the positions of conservative intellectuals without doing any thinking of their own (see “RNC Delegate Fredericks: “I am gonna go with Charles Krauthammer” on global warming“).
Is There a Scientific Consensus? Figure 3 shows another remarkable partisan divide. “Republican spokespersons and conservative commentators continue to challenge the scientific consensus on global warming by highlighting the views of a modest number of skeptic or ‘contrarian’ scientists who question the IPCC’s conclusions. One result is that in their efforts to provide ‘balanced coverage, U.S. media have given disproportionate attention to these skeptics, creating the impression of less scientific consensus on global warming than exists within the mainstream scientific community.” [Note: I don't like the term "consensus," as I've written. I prefer "understanding."]
To see just how remarkable the Figure 3 data is, compare it to Figure 1. In 1997, some 52% of Dems said the effects of global warming have already begun and 52% said most scientists believe global warming is occurring. In 2008, now 76% say warming had begun and 75% say most scientists believe warming is occurring. Makes sense. Dems believe most scientists.
As for Republicans, in 1997 some 42% said warming had begun and 48% said most scientists believe warming is occurring — a modest 6 point differential. By 2008, the percentage of Republicans saying the effects of global warming have already begun had dropped to a mere 42% (an amazing stat in its own right given the painfully obvious evidence to the contrary). But the percentage saying most scientists believe global warming is occurring had risen to 54% — a stunning 12 point differential.
In short, a significant and growing number of Republicans — one in eight as of 2008 — simply don’t believe what they know most scientists believe. That is quite alarming news, given that it is inconceivable the nation will take the very strong action needed to avert catastrophe unless it comes to believe what most scientists believe, namely that we are in big, big trouble and can delay no further (see “Desperate times, desperate scientists“).
Note to scientists: In the last decade, you apparently have become less convincing to Republicans than the deniers have been. They apparently have gotten better at messaging while you have perhaps gotten worse. The time to deal with that failure to communicate is yesterday!
What about the partisan divide over whether humans are to blame for most of the warming that has occurred? These results may be the most depressing of all:
Human-Caused or Natural Change? “In 2008, 58 percent of the surveyed population sees global warming as due more to human activities than natural causes, slightly lower than the 61 percent giving this response in 2001…. This near-stability in the overall population hides differing trends among Republicans and Democrats, as shown in Figure 4.”
A large majority of Democrats have understood for a decade that humans are the dominant cause of global warming. Only 2 in 5 Republicans now believe this, even though it is a central conclusion of the recent, definitive IPCC report.
This is really the core scientific and political issue: If you believe the sharp increases in human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases over the past century are not the primary cause of global warming then it would seem obvious you will believe that sharp decreases in human-caused emissions humans are not the solution. And this is a core reason why Congressional Republicans seem increasingly unwilling to back serious climate action (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 6: What the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill debate tells us“). Unless these numbers change substantially, climate action will remain a very polarized issue politically.
Is Media Coverage Exaggerated? The main sources of denial come from conservative sources outside of the traditional, mainstream media. So it is only natural that Republicans would be increasingly skeptical of the mainstream media (see Figure 2), whose coverage, though still quite lame, is at least somewhat driven by the rapidly growing quantity and quality of observational evidence along with the increasingly strong scientific understanding of climate science.
And so we have what can be described only as an increasingly grim political situation. A majority of Republicans don’t believe the effects of global warming are already here, and they don’t believe humans are the primary cause of temperature changes in the last century.
The two obvious sources of information that might change these dangerously mistaken views are the scientific community and the traditional news. But Republicans have become increasingly skeptical of both those sources over time.
That really leaves only one source of “information” that might change the views of Republicans and that is the leadership of the conservative movement itself — conservative politicians, conservative think tanks, conservative media, and conservative pundits. Until they not only reverse their position completely but also actively spread this reversed position to the faithful, this country will find it almost impossible to adopt the very strong government-led policies needed to avert humanity’s self-destruction.
Yet this Presidential campaign suggests the tiny portion of the conservative movement that actually seemed to understand global warming is now moving in the wrong direction (see “Turns out McCain doesn’t care about global warming, the greatest threat we face“).
I don’t have any easy answers to offer in this post. I do believe that if the conservative movement continues to strongly oppose serious climate action, then it will ultimately be destroyed by that self-destructive myopia. But that will be very small comfort to the billions and billions of people whose lives are ruined by catastrophic global warming in the coming decades and centuries.
I suppose the only answer remains vigilance. The cost of losing is simply too high.
- CEI campaigns to destroy the climate for centuries
- Who are the Denyers and Court Jesters?
- National Academies call for 50% CO2 cut
- Must Read Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists
- Are Scientists Overestimating — or Underestimating — Climate Change, Part I
- Are Scientists Overestimating — or Underestimating — Climate Change, Part II
- Are Scientists Overestimating — or Underestimating — Climate Change, Part III