Submitted by Sarah “Steve” Mosko, PhD
Within moments of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the White House web page on climate change was purged, and on March 28 Trump ordered the dismantling of Obama’s Clean Power Plan which was designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Many members of Congress are still openly climate change skeptics or deniers.
In a representative democracy such as ours, one might conclude that most Americans don’t believe in or are unconcerned about climate change. Two recent polls reveal how wrong this is.
Seventy percent of Americans believe global warming is happening, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication which used a national survey of over 18,000 adults spanning 2008 to 2016. Fully 75% favor regulating CO2 as a pollutant.
Consistent with this, 62% of Americans responded “no” when asked if President Trump should “remove specific regulation intended to combat climate change” in a nationwide poll just released on March 8 by Quinnipiac University. Furthermore, a Yale Project post-election poll of Trump voters found that more than six in ten support taxing and/or regulating the pollution that causes global warming.
An obvious next question is whether these national averages are masking major state-to-state variations in public opinion. The answer is no. The Yale Project concluded that in all 50 states a solid majority of the public both believe global warming is happening (between 60% and 78%) and favor regulating CO2 as a pollutant (66%-81%). Majorities in every state also believe global warming will harm future generations.
Clearly, Americans are concerned about climate change and want their government to take action. If majorities in Congress are hearing this, there’s little evidence.
In fact, the Stopping EPA Overreach Act (H.R.637) introduced in January, with 121 signatories, is blatantly designed to block any national action on climate change. It amends the Clean Air Act to exclude CO2 from regulation and specifically nullifies any existing laws aimed at addressing global warming.
People living in San Diego County (S.D.) closely mirror the nation as a whole in opinions on climate change. The Yale Project found that large majorities in all five congressional districts believe climate change is happening (67-77%) and want CO2 regulated as a pollutant (71-77%). It should be surprising then to learn that the range of positions S.D. House members have taken on climate change runs the gamut.
All three Democrats from S.D. – Susan Davis (53rd), Scott Peters (52nd) and Juan Vargas (51st) – voted in the last Congress against Republican led resolutions to nullify the caps on CO2 emissions from power plants under Obama’s Clean Power Plan (S.J. Res. 23 & 24). On their websites, Davis and Peters argue publicly for the need to tackle climate change head-on, and Peters has endorsed the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan that aims for 100% renewable electricity by 2035.
Duncan Hunter (R-50th) might be most extreme at the other end of the spectrum. Though he is not currently co-sponsoring the Stopping EPA Overreach Act, he did co-sponsor an identical bill in the last Congress (HR 3380). Along with Darrell Issa (R-49th), Hunter also voted for nullifying the Clean Power Plan in the last Congress.
However, Issa, long an outspoken skeptic of governmental initiatives to slow global warming, might be shifting position following a razor thin win over Democrat challenger Doug Applegate to retain his seat last November. Issa recently joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, a nascent bipartisan coalition of 34 House members (evenly split Republican:Democrat) dedicated to solving climate change.
Two S.D. Democrats, Peters and Vargas, are Climate Solutions Caucus members too, and Issa’s the only California Republican yet to join. One can speculate that Applegate’s public promise to support “legislation that actively combats global warming and climate change” might have helped convince Issa to rethink his opposition to government action on climate change.
However neither Issa nor Hunter are among the 17 co-sponsors of an all-Republican resolution introduced on March 15 calling on the government to address climate change.
Climate change is hands down the most serious environmental problem mankind has ever faced. It’s deeply troubling that, in our democracy, some representatives are out of step with their own constituents on climate change. Are they genuinely clueless about what their constituents think, or do they just not care? Either is unacceptable.
Sarah “Steve” Mosko, PhD