A climate of hope

Despite Donald Trump, Scott Morrison and others there is a significant change of opinion on climate change around much of the western world – particularly in the US of all places – for the better.

The evidence for this comes from a series of studies by Yale and George Mason universities’ climate change communications centres and other academics. A report based on findings from a nationally representative survey – Climate Change in the American Mind – conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication is a prime example of this.

The December 2018 report – by Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach, Seth Rosenthal, John Kotcher, Matthew Ballew, Matthew Goldberg and Abel Gustafs – found that in their latest national survey “that a large majority of Americans say the issue of global warming is personally important to them, outnumbering those who don’t by more than a 2 to 1 margin. The percentage of Americans who say global warming is personally important is now at a record high (72%), up 9 percentage points since March 2018.”

The shift in opinion represents a series of record polling highs including:

• 73% of Americans think global warming is happening, an increase of 3 percentage points since March 2018.

• 62% of Americans understand that global warming is mostly human-caused (+4 points since March 2018). By contrast, a record low 23% say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment (-5 points since March 2018).

• 69% of Americans are worried about global warming, including 29% who are “very worried”, an 8-point increase since March 2018.

• 65% think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and 32% think weather is being affected “a lot.” About half think global warming made the 2018 wildfires in the western U.S. (50%) and/or hurricanes Florence and Michael (49%) worse.

• 48% think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now” – an increase of 9 percentage points since March 2018.

• About half of Americans think they personally (49%, +7 points since March 2018) and/or their family (56%, +9) will be harmed by global warming. Majorities think global warming will harm people in their community (57%, +8 points), people in the U.S. (65%, +7 points), people in developing countries (68%, +6 points), the world’s poor (67%, +4 points), future generations of people (75%, +4 points) and/or plant and animal species (74%, +3 points).

Part of the same team – Anthony Leiserowitz (Yale), Edward Maibach (GMU), Seth Rosenthal (Yale) – also prepared a report, Politics and Global Warming, which had some surprising (at least to the blog) results as well.

The authors say: “In 2017, after the inauguration of President Trump, we found that Republican acceptance that global warming is happening and is human-caused declined by 7 and 8 percentage points respectively from the prior year. Interestingly, however, these declines did not lead to increased denial that global warming is happening or human-caused. Instead, the declines led to an increase in Republicans saying ‘I don’t know’ to both questions.”

“Research has shown that ‘political elite cues’ can influence the opinions of partisans, i.e., that the views espoused by political leaders can influence the views of their followers. The declines in Republican acceptance of human-caused global warming in 2017 may thus have been driven in part by a ‘Trump Effect’ in which the president’s statements and actions—an announcement that he will pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, his efforts to reverse the Clean Power Plan, and prior tweets suggesting that climate change is a hoax—likely had an effect on his fellow Republicans.

“In 2018, however, something interesting happened. Despite President Trump’s continued statements suggesting global warming is not real or a serious issue, Republican views bounced back. As of December 2018, Republican acceptance that global warming is happening and human-caused increased by 5 and 7 percentage points, respectively, from October 2017. These results suggest that the ‘Trump Effect’ has worn off and that Republicans (liberal, moderate, and conservative) are re-engaging the issue, having returned to near historic highs, though still at much lower levels than Democrats or Independents.”

The study also found that 67% of registered voters were worried about global warming, the highest percentage since the team’s surveys began in 2008. This includes large majorities of liberal Democrats (95%) and moderate/conservative Democrats (80%).

“About half of liberal/moderate Republicans (54%) are worried about global warming. Although only one in three conservative Republicans (32%) are worried, that is a 9-point increase since October 2017 and the highest percentage since our surveys began in 2008,” they said.

Nature (6 January 2019) reported on another significant bit of opinion research in a paper – How to win public support for a global carbon tax by Georgia State University economists Stefano Carattini, Steffen Kallbekken and Anton Orlov – and which has some implications for the current Australian government and its cohort of climate denialists.

The researchers said: “We polled citizens in Australia, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. We chose these populations because they all speak English yet reflect a variety of development levels, fuel mixes and climate policies. Around 1,000 people in each country completed an online survey. Each person was assigned one policy, chosen at random. We asked whether they would support such a carbon tax in their country if it were also implemented in all other countries. They were given background information on national and global greenhouse-gas emissions, fuel and electricity costs, income and employment, as well as on climate dividends, if any.

“Three designs received majority (>50%) support in all five countries, when averaged across tax rates. These were: lowering income taxes, redistributing revenues domestically to each citizen, and earmarking funds for mitigation projects in all countries. The first two could be achieved through harmonized carbon taxes; the third would require a global carbon tax.”

The authors also suggest in their Nature piece that President Macron might have had more luck with the gilets Jaunes if, instead of just cutting the petrol tax, he had engaged in some simultaneous re-distribution.

This, of course is exactly what the Gillard Government proposed and which the Abbott Government destroyed. Now if a member of that Gillard Government, Kim Carr, is still thrashing around finding a Monash University home for the former MUP publisher, Louise Adler, he might reconsider that plan and instead support the nascent Monash University group working on climate change communications. The blog is sure they would appreciate $24 million and put it to very good use.