Put succinctly, most Americans won’t vote this November for the presidential candidate most concerned about the weather.
But two events — the election and this summer’s drought — have given pollsters ample reason to dive into Americans’ views about climate change. Though the results are separated largely along party lines, they’re worth noting, nonetheless.
A key finding: 6 in 10 Americans believe global weather patterns are more unstable now than they were three years ago, according to polling published last week by the Washington Post and Stanford University. (Those numbers, the Post reported, have remained somewhat consistent since 2006.) Fifty-five percent of Americans believe “a great deal” can be done to reduce global warming.
From our standpoint, that’s a sign of progress since a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration laid down the law about last year’s catastrophic heat wave in Texas. That 2011 heat wave, NOAA scientists now say, was 20 times more likely to have occurred last year than it was during conditions in the 1960s because of the burning of fossil fuels. NOAA also found that 2011’s heat wave in Great Britain was 62 times as likely because of climate change.
Climate change isn’t merely about unbearably hot weather. It’s about weather patterns, winter and summer, that stray from the recorded past. It’s about unusually deep extremes in cold and hot temperatures, in summer and winter storms. (A few days of 100-degree weather in the South isn’t an indicator of global warming.) Significantly, NOAA data now show that a majority of Americans now see man-made climate change as the concern that it is.
(On a side note, it’s impossible not to notice NOAA’s other recent announcement — that this summer’s drought is the United States’ worst since 1956. In Alabama, 33 counties are suffering from a “drought emergency”; 92 percent of Alabama acreage is abnormally dry or in drought.)
The Post reported, “(Most Americans) also see future warming as something that can be addressed, and majorities want government action across a range of policies to curb energy consumption, with more support for tax breaks and government mandates.”
We applaud those who understand government’s role in limiting greenhouse gas emissions and other climate change-related areas. This being an election year, we also are not surprised by Post polling that shows Democrats are supportive of government action on climate change and Republicans want government to have a limited role on the matter. Regardless of party, a large percentage of polled Americans say they would not support climate change-related energy polices that include tax increases.
In some ways, these mountains of data can be alternately confusing and eye-opening. But what’s evident — and critical — is that more Americans are understanding man’s long-term future on Earth depends on smart energy decisions today.