Climate

Most Americans Disagree With Their Congressional Representative On Climate Change

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

According to new research from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, more than six in ten Americans are represented by someone in Congress who denies the reality of climate change.

Following the second straight year that earned the title of hottest year on record, 59 percent of the Republican House caucus and 70 percent of Republicans in the Senate deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and humans are the main cause. There are 182 climate deniers in the 114th Congress in 2016 — 144 in the House and 38 in the Senate. According to the U.S. Census, that means 202,803,591 people are represented by a climate denier in Congress.

The record of denial, combined with data on campaign contributions and climate-influenced natural disaster declarations, is presented in a spiffy new map, embedded above. Click on a state to unveil more information. Data nerds will be happy to find the “See the data” link in the bottom left, where all the information can be viewed all in one place.

It has been a year since this research was last conducted, and since then 14 House members have revealed themselves to be climate deniers from their public statements. The number stayed the same in the Senate, though there was an exchange. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) took herself off the list last October when she said “I believe that it is a real issue, that obviously man-made activity is contributing to carbon dioxide emissions and that we should be of course working on solutions that I hope are common-sense solutions.” Ayotte swapped her place with Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who said that while “there always has been [climate change], there always will be,” the human contribution to that change is “up for debate.”

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CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

The general public is way ahead of Congress — a recent poll found that 76 percent of Americans said they believed global climate change is occurring, including 59 percent of Republicans. And 67 percent support President Obama’s plan to regulate power plants to cut carbon emissions.

As climate change and the policy response it requires become more of an issue in the national discourse, more senators and representatives have spoken about it, revealing that climate denial has shifted slightly in tone. There are still over four dozen lawmakers who refuse to believe that the planet is warming based on their public statements. Over the last year and a half, some politicians have attempted to dodge the overwhelming consensus of the world’s climate scientists by saying “I’m not a scientist.” Recently, even more have acknowledged that climate change may be happening, but they question humanity’s role in it, before pivoting to economic and policy disputes over the solution. The world’s scientists have been certain for some time that human activity is the dominant cause of the global warming observed over the last half century.

Climate deniers have received $73,294,380 from dirty energy companies in the coal, oil, and gas industries, according to CAPAF’s research. That is a huge jump from the over $63 million deniers received as of the beginning of 2015. A quarter of that ten million dollar increase comes from the new names on the list, while the rest comes from increased fundraising totals from known deniers. In general, the average career dirty energy contribution per Senate denier was $889,101, compared to $207,272 for those who had not publicly revealed themselves to be deniers. The average House contribution was $274,365 per denier, and $92,000 for non-deniers. In total, House deniers pulled in $39,508,554 in dirty energy money, while deniers in the Senate pulled in $33,785,826.

What defined a denier? The researchers classified any lawmaker who has questioned or denied the scientific consensus behind human-caused climate change, individuals who answered climate questions with the “I’m not a scientist” dodge, those who claimed the climate is always changing, and individuals who questioned the extent to which human beings contribute to global climate change, as deniers.

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CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

All of the deniers are Republicans, including party leadership, which makes the party very lonely on the world stage when it comes to the scientific reality of climate change.

Sondre Båtstrand, a researcher at Norway’s University of Bergen, published a paper in the journal Politics and Policy which found that the U.S. Republican party “is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change” — the GOP is the only conservative party in the world which denies the reality of climate change. The 2012 Republican party platform takes a swipe at climate scientists, questioning the “causes and long-range effects of a phenomenon” that is “uncertain” and saying “we must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research.” Båtstrand identifies three factors to explain this denial: the profligate political spending of the fossil fuel industry, a commitment to free-market ideology, and the intense political polarization which punishes compromise-minded moderate party members.

That denial and opposition manifests regularly in Congress, as last month over 200 lawmakers signed onto a court brief opposing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Late last year, the House passed two resolutions attempting to kill the plan, which would regulate carbon emissions from power plants, as required by the Clean Air Act. The measures passed mostly, but not entirely, along party lines, though fueled largely by the votes of climate deniers. A similar thing happened in the Senate the prior month, and President Obama promptly vetoed both resolutions. This congressional activity happened in the face of polls showing Republican support for the carbon regulations in key states, and praise from hundreds of local chambers of commerce.

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CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

Highlighting the current and future threats posed by denying the existence of human-caused climate change and blocking any action to fight it, CAPAF’s research also includes data on the number of natural disasters declared in each state over the last five years. The national total reached 577 from 2011-2015.

To accurately total the number of climate-related disasters, the researchers gathered data for federally declared disasters from FEMA in February 2016. This data included all official FEMA Disaster Declarations, beginning with the first disaster declaration in 1953 and featured all three disaster declaration types: major disaster, emergency, and fire management assistance. They looked at all disasters declared between 2011 and 2015. In order to narrow their list to include only climate-related natural disasters, they excluded disasters caused by: terrorism, explosions, fires caused by explosions, earthquakes, chemical spills, tsunamis, bridge collapses, and volcanoes.

They included the following types of incidents: coastal storms, drought, flooding, freezing, hurricanes, mudslides (from flooding), severe ice storms, severe storms, snow, tornadoes, typhoons, and wildfires. They included major disaster declarations, emergency declarations, and fire management assistance declarations.

“Climate deniers flout the universities, local elected officials, and employers in their own home states who understand the dangers of climate change, as well as the voters across the country who call on us to take responsible action to protect their communities,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). “Members of Congress should be accountable to their constituents, not to a fossil fuel industry that uses the threat of unlimited campaign spending to command their silence.”

Credit to Dylan Petrohilos and Jonathon Padron for the new map and Molly Cain and Fionn Adamian for contributing research.