After sweating through the second straight year that earned the title of hottest year on record, new research from the Center for American Progress Action Fund finds that 24 governors and attorneys general publicly deny the reality of climate change. It also gives a comprehensive summary of their records and public views on climate change and energy issues. The 21 governors publicly confirmed as climate deniers is an increase from previous years.
The public is way ahead of these state lawmakers — a recent poll found that 76 percent of Americans said they believed global climate change is occurring, including 59 percent of Republicans.
This year’s analysis, displayed below in an interactive map and accompanying data sheet, also examines the records of nation’s 50 attorneys general for the first time. Twenty-seven of them are suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan or blocking similar climate action. A smaller number are looking into whether ExxonMobil purposely misled investors and the public about the risks of climate change as far back as 1977.
Despite the actions of a notable few pushing — at times even in a bipartisan fashion — for climate action, meaningful legislation addressing climate change is dead on arrival in the current Congress. President Obama is doing what he can in the executive branch under existing legislation to cut emissions from electricity generation through the Clean Power Plan and transportation through stronger CAFE standards, for example.
Yet much of the real climate action — and inaction — takes place at the state level. Some governors decide to defend renewable energy standards, like Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), or advocate for easy access to solar energy, like Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D). Others, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), roll back renewable energy standards or sign solar fee bills like Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R).
Some attorneys general are pursuing legal action against oil giant ExxonMobil for misleading the public and investors on what it knew about the dangers of climate change, like New York’s Eric Schneiderman (D). Others — over two dozen in fact, are suing the EPA over the president’s Clean Power Plan.
The CAPAF research found that governors and attorneys general who block climate action have received a total of $24,108,513 in campaign contributions from the dirty energy industry, including oil, gas, and coal. This is the first time the research has totaled political contributions from state lawmakers.
It has been a year since this research was last conducted, and since then five more governors have revealed themselves to be climate deniers in their public statements. Newly-elected Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) added himself to the list when he said during a gubernatorial debate there has been “a lot of fluff and theory that has been perpetrated as science to create the perception that somehow this global warming has been entirely man-made.” West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D), also made this year’s list as the lone Democrat among the 24 deniers.
While some governors have doubled down on their old denial, or newly revealed themselves to be deniers, others have become even more determined on climate change. California Gov. Jerry Brown sent a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, urging him to get his head out of the sand when it comes to climate change.
“If you’re truly serious about Florida’s economic wellbeing, it’s time to stop the silly political stunts and start doing something about climate change — two words you won’t even let state officials say,” Brown wrote in the letter. “The threat is real and so too will be the devastating impacts.”
The disagreements even extend to leaders within the same state. Colorado is facing a unique situation wherein Governor John Hickenlooper (D) disagrees with Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) on the Clean Power Plan. Coffman joined the legal effort in other states to halt the plan last year. Hickenlooper challenged Coffman’s ability to do so over his objections, but the state supreme court sided with Coffman.
To highlight the devastating impacts of climate change, CAPAF’s research also includes data on the number of natural disasters declared in each state between 2011 and 2015. There were 577 climate-related natural disasters declared in that five-year period almost half of which — or 263 — occurred in states led by governors who deny climate change.
While more than 67 percent of Americans support action to address climate change, more than 54 percent — 173,757,379 people according to census data — have a governor or attorney general attempting or supporting efforts to derail the Clean Power Plan.
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.
As climate change and the policy response it requires become more of an issue in the national discourse, more state lawmakers have spoken about it, revealing that climate denial has shifted slightly in tone. 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.
Credit to Dylan Petrohilos and Jonathon Padron for the new map and Jillian Murphy and Tim Hegedus for contributing research.
This post was updated on September 13, 2016 to reflect new Follow the Money contribution data and to include new Attorneys General in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.