A poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University, and Resources for the Future sheds more heat than light on the public’s attitudes towards climate change.
The poll is being publicized because it found a sizable number of Republicans indicated they were concerned about climate change. Just one problem: Previous polls have shown the same thing. Nearly everyone, Democrat or Republican, is concerned about the possible effects of climate change. The important point is everyone has different evaluations of the danger it poses and the best responses to it.
After more than two decades of hearing nothing about climate change except radical environmental activists’ hype, fear-mongering, and misinformation parroted by a compliant media complex, it is little wonder most of the public believes the changing climate is due to human action and will be bad for future generations. Belief, however, doesn’t make claims true.
For instance, climate models and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say temperature should climb right along with the rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, yet for the past two decades, CO2 emissions have risen steadily while temperatures have held steady.
Alarmists’ models say we should see more intense hurricanes, yet for nearly a decade, the United States has experienced far below the average number of hurricanes making landfall. Sea-level rise has slowed, polar bear numbers have increased, the Antarctic ice sheet has set new records, and even the Arctic is back to average ice levels for the decade. All of these trends fully contradict IPCC’s predictions.
In addition to the limitations of what the Times poll tells us about the public’s views of climate change, it suffers from a glaring weakness: It does not measure the intensity of response or relative importance of global warming compared with other possible issues.
Ask the public about almost any public policy issue frequently in the headlines, and poll respondents will say it is important: immigration, clean air, education, crime, the economy, terrorism, jobs, and retirement are all important topics, according to the polls. What we really need to know, however, is how important each issue is relative to other matters of concern. In a world of limited resources and limited voter attention, government must concentrate its efforts on what the public is most concerned about and what will motivate them when they go to the polls.
On this question, poll after poll says climate change consistently ranks at or near the bottom on the public’s list of concerns. For instance, a United Nations poll surveying nearly 7 million respondents from 195 countries asked participants to rank 16 priorities. A quality education ranked first and “Action Taken on Climate Change” ranked dead last, receiving 300,000 fewer votes than “Access to Telephone and Internet,” which finished 15th on the list.
U.S. polls likewise show concern about climate change lags behind every other important issue, including other environmental issues such as clean air and clean water. This is true for both Republicans and a majority of Democrats. People may be worried about climate, but they are far more concerned about many other things with more direct impact on their lives. This is why when election time comes, a wise politician, except maybe in a few bluest of the blue liberal political enclaves, will focus more on jobs, the economy, crime, national security, education, retirement, or almost any other topic except global warming.
The New York Times’ poll isn’t completely worthless, however. Consistent with the results of other polls examining the public’s views on climate change, the Times’ poll found the public wants to fight climate change only if it can be done for free or very little cost. An overwhelming 74 percent of the public rejected tax increases on electricity use to encourage people to conserve to prevent climate change. Sixty-three percent also rejected higher gasoline taxes to fight climate change.
The public clearly believes fighting climate change is a good idea, unless we have to pay for it. We can debate the causes and consequences of climate change, but no one can seriously pretend significant efforts to control Earth’s climate, if it is even possible, will be cheap.
Let the public and the politicians ponder that.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute, a non-profit research center based in Chicago, Illinois.