Debunking Myths: Oregonians ARE Worried about Climate Change

By Mary Fifield of Portland, Oregon. Mary is the executive director of Amazon Partnerships Foundation, Mary Fifield worked in the Ecuadorian Amazon supporting indigenous communities' efforts to fight climate change and oil extraction. She is now principal of Kaleidoscope Consulting in Portland and blogs at Earth in Here.

Even with a moderate to severe drought affecting most of Oregon, it may be easy to ensconce oneself in the Portland bubble and believe that no one else is worrying about the climate crisis. But according to the Oregon Values Project, a recent statewide study released by DHM Research and Policy Interactive, the majority of Oregonians not only worry about climate change, they understand how it threatens what they love most about the state--its pristine natural places--and they think the government should do something about it, even if it negatively impacts the economy.

Designed to capture a statewide picture, the study draws on a statistically representative sample (nearly 4,000 randomly selected respondents) from all five major regions in Oregon. U.S. Census data was used to ensure accurate representation and proportional weighting across age, gender, region, and income levels. Three surveys covering 198 questions were conducted in all; questions were presented in different forms and contexts to allow results to be triangulated, and respondents were informed that expressing support for an issue also meant supporting funding for it.

The results run counter to the prevailing climate-denial narrative. According to the study, the public clearly expects government to respond to climate issues. Fifty-seven percent believe that environmental protection should take priority, even at the risk of slower economic growth. The same percentage support government measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and 50% support a carbon tax. A significant majority (67%) believe the state needs stronger regulations so that industries are required to pay for pollution, rather than pass those costs on to the public.

Perhaps most surprising is the degree to which people understand that the climate crisis demands a more fundamental societal and economic shift. More than 70% of Oregonians feel that climate destabilization requires lifestyle changes, such as driving less or living more simply, and they recognize the cost of these changes. Almost half (48%) support a consumption tax and 68% support conservation tax breaks.

Despite all the noise of climate deniers, this study debunks the myth that the public does not care about the climate crisis. Now that we know they do, the question is: what are we going to do about it?

For one, public policy needs to reflect the urgency. Tom Bowerman, one of the principal researchers for the Values Project, said, a science is now pointing to something like a six percent emission reduction per year to avoid catastrophic consequences, but public policy isna t even taking this seriously."

The situation calls for systemic policy change, given the "ubiquity of carbon-based energy in our cultural expectations, norms and habits," as Bowerman describes it. We won't see that kind of policy change until public outcry is loud enough to convince opponents to change their minds and supporters to take a bolder stand.

There are signs that the chorus is amplifying--public opposition has helped block plans for three of six coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and has stalled construction of the Keystone XL pipeline for now. Thirty U.S. Senators held a marathon overnight "talk-a-thon" to draw attention to climate destabilization.

But we need to take this momentum and build on it--fast. The data from the Oregon Values Project should power our resolve to turn up the pressure on elected officials and put the climate crisis front and center of our political and public concern, where it must be to have any hope of fighting it.

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