Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Climate change may be the sleeping giant among 2020 issues

The NY Times’ Tuesday evening briefing reports that a record number of Americans understand that climate change is real, a new survey found, and they are increasingly worried about its impact on their lives.

Some 73 percent of Americans polled late last year said global warming was happening, a jump in 10 percentage points from 2015. And 72 percent of Americans said global warming was personally important to them, jumping nine percentage points since last March. Above, Mexico Beach, Fla., after Hurricane Michael last year.

Read more in the Times’ report: Global Warming Concerns Rise Among Americans in New Poll.

The trends in American attitudes about climate change are significant. Before the 2016 election 55% of those polled saw climate change as important. Now that percentage has grown to 72%.

The survey is the latest in a series from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. It was conducted online in November and December by Ipsos, which polled 1,114 American adults.

The results suggest that climate change has moved out of the realm of the hypothetical for a wide majority of Americans, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale program.

“It is something that is activating an emotion in people, and that emotion is worry,” he said. The survey found that 69 percent of Americans were “worried” about warming, an eight-point increase since March.

“People are beginning to understand that climate change is here in the United States, here in my state, in my community, affecting the people and places I care about, and now,” Dr. Leiserowitz said. “This isn’t happening in 50 years, 100 years from now.”

While public opinion on climate issues has fluctuated over the years, many of the recent changes were large enough to fall outside the margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. “I’ve never seen jumps in some of the key indicators like this,” Dr. Leiserowitz said.

Americans’ growing understanding of global warming is part of a long-term trend, he said. But he attributed the recent increases to a number of extreme weather events with plausible connections to a warming planet, and to the publicity that surrounded two major scientific reports on climate change last year.

Those reports, from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change and the United States government, laid out grim prospects for the future if action is not taken to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that warm the planet.

The changes in public opinion over the last year were also tied to politics, Dr. Leiserowitz said, and to the efforts of President Trump to deny the scientific evidence of climate change.

Every time he talks about climate change he drives more media attention to the exact issue,” Dr. Leiserowitz >said.

Political party affiliation is strongly associated with acceptance of the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming, with Democrats tending to accept it and Republicans tending to reject it. But Mr. Trump’s approach to politics is so divisive, Dr. Leiserowitz said, that when he takes a strong stand on climate change and other issues, “he tends to drive a majority of the country in the opposite direction.”

My good friend and mentor, Al Riley, sees climate change and what to do about it as the paramount question for presidential candidates. It appears that about 3 in 4 voters feel the same way. Now it falls on all of us to convince our candidates to go beyond talk and commit to specific action. The question to ask your 2020 candidate is: we believe climate change to be the most important issue for planetary survival. Do you? And then press them to get specific.

So who will arise to challenge Trump on climate change? With the field expanding almost daily, keeping track of candidate positions will be a bit of a challenge. With regard to climate change I will try to help. For example, the League of Conservation Voters has helped us out with a scorecard. I will post some of their results in a forthcoming edition of

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