This Monday, Oregonian readers saw the story from Scott Learn about a survey commissioned by Oregon’s Global Warming Commission:
When it comes to views on global warming, Oregonians are living in "separate realities" based on political ideology, a new online survey indicates...
The survey wasn't scientific, and likely garnered people with stronger views than a random survey would have. Survey designers recruited participants from 40 Oregon-based groups, including business and environmental organizations.
As the article noted, even in this self-selected, skewed sample, there are consensus actions we can take to tackle the climate crisis. Large majorities of liberals, moderates, and conservatives believe we should increase renewable generation and increase energy conservation. Even 41% of self-described conservatives want to tighten emission standards for utilities, and over a third of the conservatives passionate enough to fill out the survey support a carbon tax.
Perhaps most critically, the report notes: “moderates aligned decidedly more with acting on climate than doing nothing."
That gives one a glimmer of hope. More interestingly, what do more scientific studies show about the views of the full population?
The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication did a nationwide scientific poll this spring, which found:
Nearly twice as many Republicans believe climate change is happening as it is not (53-30%) and an overwhelming number of Independents believe so (71-14%).
Majorities of Republicans and even Tea Partiers support funding more research in renewable energy and giving tax rebates for energy efficient vehicles and solar panels.
Majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans support requiring utilities to get at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year. Even 47% of Tea Partiers support this.
Majorities of Democrats and Independents support signing an international treaty requiring the U.S. to cut its carbon emissions by 90% by 2050.
Large majorities of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Tea Partiers support local regulations requiring new homes to be more energy efficient, the construction of bike paths on city streets, and increasing the availability of public transit in their county.
Majorities of all four groups say protecting the environment either improves economic growth and provides new jobs or has no effect on economic growth or jobs. Only a third of Tea Partiers think environmental protection reduces economic growth and costs jobs.
When asked if they were to contact government officials about global warming, 55% of Republicans said they would “urge them to take action on global warming” while only 28% said they would “urge them not to take action on global warming.” If Tea Partiers are added in (the survey treats them as a separate, fourth group) more of the combined group would still support action than inaction.
Sadly, only 14% of Americans (and only 18% of Democrats) know at least 80% of climate scientists think global warming is happening (the actual number is 98% of climate scientists agree, or one in fifty disagrees). And two-thirds of people believe they are at least “fairly well informed” about global warming.
What to make of this?
First, the news media have failed to inform Americans about the clear scientific and public opinion consensus to act on this issue. The corporate effort to spend tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to sow doubt has worked, often hand-in-glove with the media's need to sell conflict and controversy.
Second, entrenched corporate polluters have significant lobbying power, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to local organizations like the Association of Oregon Industries who fight Oregon laws that promote moving forward on climate.
Third, the Republican presidential candidates, save Jon Huntsman, are pandering to a sliver of their base, and are deeply out of touch with most Americans.
Fourth, Oregon political candidates across the spectrum should promote action to combat global warming. Whichever party a candidate is, promoting action is in line with her base, while being much more likely to appeal to independent and moderate voters than promoting inaction.
Lastly, many policies that help battle the climate crisis are popular even among Tea Partiers.
The Oregon Global Warming Commission and Oregon Legislature should take the unscientific survey with a big grain of salt. Instead, they should look to scientific polling and natural science, which just this week reported two huge ice shelves in Canada have shrunk dramatically, one nearly disappearing.
Whatever their party, voters agree: the time to act on climate is now.