A new Pew Research Center report confirms that Republicans and Democrats have different opinions on climate change, but it also found that views on the right and on the left converge in surprising ways. Republicans may distrust climate scientists and the idea that fossil fuel burning leads to global warming, but the vast majority of survey respondents across the political spectrum are concerned with environmental issues and would like to see new wind and solar power projects.
Republicans showed high levels of distrust in climate scientists, unlike scientists in general. Their level of scientific literacy — as judged by answers to nine questions on general scientific knowledge — did not significantly predict whether or not they believe climate change is real and caused by humans. Despite their skepticism, a majority of Republicans still believed scientists should have a role in shaping climate policy.
What this goes to show is that politics — not an information gap — drives the divide between Democrats and Republicans on questions of climate change. And for Democrats in particular, using climate change as a wedge issue — as in, you’re with us or you’re against us — is very likely hurting progress on transitioning away from fossil fuels. And that, given the evidence that folks in both camps support solar and wind power, is a shame.
The idea that Democrats care about climate change and Republicans don’t isn’t just unhelpful — it’s untrue. Of the 36 percent of Americans who say they care deeply about climate issues, a quarter are Republican. That means that almost one in 10 Americans is a Republican who is worried about global warming and thinks we should be doing something about it.
It could be that the politicization of the issue is a primary reason for the gap between people who say they care deeply about climate change, at 36 percent, and people who say they are “particularly concerned about helping the environment” in their day to day lives, at 75 percent.
It’s not strange that Republicans care about the environment as much as Democrats — conservationists are fundamentally conservative. It also shouldn’t be too surprising that a carbon tax, widely considered the most efficient economic intervention to lower fossil fuel emissions but too politically dicey for Hillary Clinton’s platform, has significant support within the GOP.
What is strange is that a country apparently full of alternative energy-loving environmentalists could be driven apart so effectively on a question that is fundamentally about the future of life on this planet as we know it.