As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) quieted another series of dire warnings about climate change, it’s worth noting how Republicans and Democrats really feel about the subject, how businesses think about it and what’s driving their assessment. Moreover, there’s a solution that even conservatives will appreciate.
The recent controversy occurred when the USDA was accused of burying another series of concerns about how climate change will hurt farmers. Additionally, there were orders to trim all science advisory boards and moves to cut money for agricultural research which show policymakers are dismissing scientific evidence, to the country’s peril.
A Majority of Republicans Believe in Climate Change
Climate change used to be an issue that divided Americans along partisan lines. That’s not the case anymore, as majorities in both parties, plus independents, have accepted the science—even if bureaucratic leaders haven’t.
Three years ago, only 49 percent of Republicans believed in climate change. Now, 64 percent of those in the GOP do, according to a Monmouth poll. Nationally, more than three-quarters of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, and those numbers are up over the last three years among Democrats and independents.
And, this is not a geographic issue, in which only blue states buy it. Those on the coasts (79 percent) are just as likely as those in the nation’s heartland (77 percent) to observe climate change occurring, according to that Monmouth survey.
Corporations Are Concerned About Climate Change as Well
It’s not just the average American who recognizes the dangers of climate change. Moody’s Analytics estimates that damage from climate change could cost the country between $54 trillion and $69 trillion, joining European companies wary of insuring those contributing to climate change. And it’s not just crop damage and severe weather that corporations are worried about. The consequences for human health, personal property and public infrastructure will be significantly disrupted unless reforms are taken.
Insurance companies aren’t the only ones actively sounding the alarm on climate change. Last year, Forbes published Simon Mainwaring’s column about why businesses need to take on climate change, and how they can do so.
People Are Now Getting Worried About the Weather
Suppressing scientists working for the government won’t change people’s minds. Firing any professor or analyst who sounds the alarm bells won’t stop the growing concern about climate change. That’s because people are watching the weather and are able to see the severe weather changes for themselves, as reported by the Associated Press.
“The poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago finds 74 percent of Americans say extreme weather in the past five years—hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves—has influenced their opinions about climate change. That includes half of Americans who say these recent events have influenced their thinking a great deal or a lot. About as many, 71 percent, said the weather they experience daily in their own areas has influenced their thinking about climate change science.”
When “once a century” storms are occurring once a decade, people know something’s up. Record high temperatures in Alaska and Europe, combined with more severe storms like the hurricanes we’ve seen in recent years, have people worried.
Climate Change Critics Lack a Consistent Message
Those who have criticized climate change are all over the place. You have those who say (1) we’re going through global cooling, or that (2) there’s nothing going on different with the weather at all, or (3) that any changes occurring are natural, not human-made, or (4) it’s the fault of other countries.
With such an inconsistent message, it’s no wonder that the AP-NORC poll showed only nine percent of Americans are climate deniers. While 19 percent say they are unsure, the remaining 70+ percent not only recognize the climate is changing, but most of them (60 percent) also trust the science that says human activity is contributing greatly to this. If climate change becomes an election issue in 2020, it doesn’t look so good for the GOP and Donald Trump.
Here’s a Solution Conservatives Can Appreciate as Well
But there’s hope for America, and even the GOP, to keep the party from being swamped by this issue. There are groups popping up across America, like Conservatives for Clean Energy, which is already making a splash in Georgia and North Carolina.
Moreover, it’s not as though every company is equally polluting. In 2017, The Guardian reported that just 100 companies were contributing to nearly 75 percent of all global emissions. Getting those companies to change any destructive behavior would hurt the economy less and help the planet recover from the damage. McKinsey & Company have already outlined a strategy that can help these and other corporations adapt to climate change.
And renewable energy is already showing it can outperform other forms of energy in meeting the needs of the American economy. Think Progress reported last month: “The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced Wednesday that, in April, ‘U.S. monthly electricity generation from renewable sources exceeded coal-fired generation for the first time.’ While coal provided 20 percent of U.S. power in April, renewables—which include utility-scale hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass—provided 23 percent of total generation.”
Nor should this be something where blue states that make the reforms win, and red states that ignore the problem lose. Georgia is already moving toward deploying solar power, even creating a welcome center exit on the Alabama border run by the sun’s energy, while panels dot the rest of the Peach State, making it an energy leader despite the lack of oil and coal. There’s no shortage of sun down there.
Republicans need a new way of thinking about the problem, to catch up to what the American people already know and support. If not, expect support for Democrats to warm up, as voters cool their attitudes toward the GOP.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia—read his full bio here.