As support for proposals that would broadly address climate change gain support and prominence on a national level, the number of lawmakers who deny or are skeptical of global warming is on the decline.
According to new analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF), there are 30 fewer lawmakers in Congress compared to last year who deny some element of climate change — whether it’s fully denying that global temperatures are increasing at all or just that warming is exacerbated by human activity. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent publication housed at the CAP Action Fund.)
That means there are total 150 lawmakers who deny or downplay climate change, all Republicans, who were singled out by the report. They represent 28 percent of the 116th Congress. Together, these lawmakers have received an average lifetime contribution of $455,730.55 from fossil fuel political action committees (PACs), CEOs, and employees.
The current drop reflects a shift in public sentiment, in addition to evolving ways of talking about and addressing climate change.
Much of the decline is due to the 2018 election exodus when 47 lawmakers defined as “climate deniers” by CAPAF left office or were defeated — either during the primaries or the November midterm elections. With some other newly elected climate deniers, this brings the overall decline to 30 lawmakers.
The organization’s definition of a “denier” falls along specific parameters to include anyone who denies “the scientific consensus that climate change is happening” or that humans are contributing to it, along with any individuals who do not feel that it is an “urgent threat.”
These lawmakers also reflect the rhetoric and policies of President Donald Trump and other top officials in the administration, who have questioned the existence of climate change and overseen the mass rollback of environmental regulations, all while bolstering fossil fuels, including the dying coal industry.
“These climate deniers illustrate the forceful hand that the fossil fuel industry has in politics, both through the industry’s direct contributions to candidates and also in more subtle ways, like hand-picking many members of Trump’s administration and funding massive public misinformation campaigns,” said Sally Hardin, a research analyst with CAPAF.
But these anti-environment policies are still proving less viable for lawmakers these days. Lawmakers who denied or downplayed climate change represented 33.6 percent of the previous Congress, or 180 people, in 2018. This represented an uptick following the 2016 election and Trump’s rise — there were 169 in the Congress before last.
But overall, it’s undeniable that lawmakers who deny or question climate change are slowly losing traction.
The reasons for this decline are hard to pinpoint, but polling increasingly shows that the U.S. public not only believes in climate change but is also growing more concerned about the issue.
According to a new poll from George Mason and Yale Universities, seven out of 10 Americans, or 73 percent, say that global warming is happening, marking an increase of 10 percent since March 2015. More than half of those surveyed were “extremely” or “very” sure climate change is happening, while 62 percent understand that global warming is caused by human activity.
That abrupt shift has seemingly been driven by an uptick in severe weather events along with major climate impacts experienced across the country.
The poll found that roughly half of Americans think they (49 percent) or their family (56 percent) will be impacted by climate change, while 46 percent say they have already experienced its effects. These findings come after two years of unprecedented wildfires raging across the West in states like California, along with devastating hurricanes in Texas, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, and other parts of the country.
“The proportion of Americans who are very worried about global warming has more than tripled since its lowest point in 2011,” the poll’s authors note. “Increasing numbers of Americans say they have personally experienced global warming and that the issue is personally important to them.”
Along with a shift in attitude has come a shift in the appeal of policy proposals. A push by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and other left-leaning lawmakers to craft and implement a “Green New Deal” has gained traction, with organizations like the nonprofit, youth-led Sunrise Movement calling for swift and immediate climate action.
While no official policy or set of policies has been released laying out what a Green New Deal would look like, supportive lawmakers have indicated that it would aim to decarbonize the U.S. economy swiftly, likely over the next decade.
Ensuring a transition to renewable energy alternatives and prioritizing jobs in such sectors has also been mentioned. And while it’s unclear how such a massive proposal might be received by the public, the minimal polling available has found that the general idea has overwhelming bipartisan support, albeit a trend that is likely to change given the nature of U.S. politics.
Still, while Democrats have indicated climate issues will be a priority this legislative session, tension remains over how best to approach the issue.
A number of Green New Deal backers have called for a committee specifically to craft the proposal, but senior Democrats have resisted such a push, arguing that pre-existing committees are capable of addressing climate action. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) has been tapped to lead a House panel on climate change, but many climate advocates have said that because the panel lacks the ability to officially craft a Green New Deal policy, it is insufficient.
Regardless of what shape any committee or deal takes, it will still be an uphill battle. Because while some House Democrats appear to be prioritizing climate action, it doesn’t mean lawmakers who question climate change and its urgency don’t still hold outsized power in Congress, as CAPAF’s findings highlight.
Seven of the 10 Republicans announced as members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Climate Change and the Environment were singled out in CAP’s analysis. They include Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), who once agued that “Man will not destroy this Earth” because “the Earth will end only when God declares it’s [sic] time to be over.” Shimkus is the Republican leader on the committee.
Five members of the controversial Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC), meanwhile, are named in the report; that bipartisan caucus has been repeatedly criticized by climate advocates who say it has done virtually nothing to enact real climate legislation.
Moreover, some lawmakers have shifted from downplaying the existence of climate change to offering solutions that many climate activists criticize, including carbon pricing initiatives. While environmental advocates have voiced support for policy proposals like carbon taxes, which would see polluters facing rising fees over emissions, there is concern that such efforts don’t go far enough to combat the global climate crisis.
And even as that shift in approach plays out, CAPAF’s findings indicate that lawmakers skeptical of climate change’s existence and impacts are still a force in Congress.
“It’s astounding,” Hardin said, “that anyone in Congress could still turn a blind eye to the cumulative impact of record-breaking extreme weather events, including hurricanes and wildfire, and the many different utterly urgent climate reports.”