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Consider that Colorado legislators last year adopted some of the deepest decarbonization goals in the country. A reflection of a rapid shift of Colorado’s electorate?

Not at all, reported Joshua Low of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Low was in metro Denver recently to participate in a panel discussion at the Colorado Water Congress about climate change communication.

Colorado, he said, has attitudes almost exactly in the middle of the nation.

                          Joshua Low     

But the middle has been moving. That shift has been observed since 2014 but especially in a six-month span last year. November polling found that 31% of Americans identified themselves as “alarmed” about climate change, an all-time high. That figure has nearly tripled since 2014.

Another 26% identified themselves as “concerned.”

Altogether 57% of Americans are alarmed or concerned about climate change. This compares to the 20% who describe themselves as either “doubtful” or “dismissive.”

“There are likely several factors that help explain why more Americans believe in global warming and why Americans are more worried about global warming,” explained Low in an interview. “One factor is more TV weathercasters are talking about global warming in timely, local ways. They are also hearing about global warming from Pope Francis and other faith community leaders. And they are hearing about it from young people in their lives.”

Yale’s polling also reveals a significant gap between those who think global warming is happening, 73% of registered voters, and those who think it is caused mostly by human activities, only 53%. Yale’s polling puts Colorado exactly at that national average.

Hawaii, at 61%, leads the country in seeing a human role in warming at 61%, followed by California and Massachusetts at 59%. New Mexico at 54% %, followed by Arizona 52%, Kansas 48%, Utah 47%, and Nebraska 46%.

Oklahoma 42% and Wyoming 41% inhabit a different planet politically.

Liberal Democrats are more likely to see human fingerprints smeared on the warming, 84%, as compared to 25% conservative Republicans.

The statistics go on and on – and should not be, I think, taken as gospel. If you dig through the appendixes, you see the range of error is up to 10%.  Some of the studies, though, have been ground-tested with greater application of resources, Colorado being one of the four places where the accuracy of the website-based polling done by the Yale program and George Mason University was ground-truthed with greater application of resources.

Yale’s polling sees broad support for clean energy, within Colorado and across the country.

“It isn’t just progressives from Boulder that support action on climate,” says Low. “In Mesa County, 54% of adults think Congress should do more to address global warming.”

“And elected officials are noticing. Combine the public support for solutions with political leadership and you get policy action,” he said, alluding to Colorado, New Mexico and other states. “In some places, that political will hasn’t yet materialized.”

There’s strong support from both Democrats and Republicans for incentives to develop clean energy, including support for rebates for purchase of energy efficient vehicles and solar panels. The support falls off somewhat for regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Even on that, though, 59% of Republicans favored regulation.

The agreement breaks down, however, on support for fossil fuels. Republicans very much tend to favor an all-of-the-above approach, but not so Democrats.

You can spend a fascinating half-hour strolling through the Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2019.  You can see the country broken down by state, congressional districts, even county levels.

Also on the same subject:

• Polling by the Washington Post showed one of every four teenagers aged 13-17 had some involvement in climate change.

A Jan. 21 report from the Yale group revealed 69% of registered voters (again, with more support among Democrats than Republicans) in favor of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, but 59% supporting fee-and-dividend. The difference?

Yale’s Seth Rosenthal said the more popular policy reduces taxes whereas the less popular one essentially sends out “refund” checks. He thinks people are more likely to support a tax cut than redistribution of tax money after the fact. But Low says no data exists yet to show for sure what’s really going on.

Yale’s polling finds that global warming has elevated in importance among voters looking toward the 2020 presidential election. It ranked 11th most important issue among voters polled in November compared to 17th just a half-year before. This was among 29 possible issues.

Again, this varies by political affiliation and leanings: for liberal Democrats, it’s the third most highly ranked issue but 7th most highly ranked issue for moderate and conservative Democrats. Far less so for conservative Republicans.

• A report from the Pew Research Center in February found that for the first time in the two decades of the Pew survey that a majority of Americans said dealing with climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. That’s a 14% rise from four years ago.

The New York Times noted in its story — “Climate Change Rises as a Priority. But it’s More Partisan Than Ever” — that nearly two-thirds of Americans ranked protecting the environment as a leading policy priority, which is almost as many as said economic growth should remain a primary focus.

But the surge in climate and environmental concern masks a deep partisan divide:

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents under 40 were much more likely to say the government isn’t doing enough to address global warming or protect the environment, compared with their older counterparts. So were those identifying as female.

• Doug Parsons, who hosts a popular podcast called America Adapts, which is all about adaptation as opposed to mitigation, said at the Water Congress that he has learned in podcasts that people shy away from talking about climate change, because they see it as controversial. It’s a more available topic—as demonstrated by Yale’s polling—than many realize. Don’t tip-toe around the subject, he added, but instead embrace the opportunity for conversation.

• Andy Schultheiss, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, and, from 2009 to 2014, director of Colorado operations for then-U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, said effective messages famously are clear, concise, connecting and, in this case of climate change, can use the device of contrasting: What does this world look like if we don’t adapt and mitigate? The environmental community, he said, sometimes gets very frustrated because members talk to one another but not those outside.

This story was published in the March 2, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. 

Allen Best
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