There are signs that the Republican climate-change denial log jam may be starting to break up.
US Republican politicians could actually start to accept the science of global warming and attendant climate change, and offer actual solutions. The denial iceberg is breaking up among Republican politicians, including very senior ones. That’s probably because Republican voters are much more aware of reality than the rhetoric of the politicians makes it seem.
Data Point 1: The Majority Of Republican Voters Accept That The Climate Is Changing
Monmouth University regularly polls for climate change opinions in the USA. The latest poll from late 2018 saw a majority, 64%, of self-identified Republican voters agreeing that the climate was changing for the first time. That was a major jump from 49% three years earlier. Mind you, only 13% accepted the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans were the primary cause and other polling shows that 87% of people in the USA don’t understand that there is a scientific consensus on the subject.
The data from the Monmouth poll that likely concerns Republican strategists is that Republican voters who live in coastal states are much more likely to think it’s a very serious problem that must be addressed, regardless of whether they think humans are causing it. Florida was barely won by Republicans in the past few elections. Florida’s electoral college votes, 31 in 2020 up from 29 in 2016, all go to the winner of the popular vote, as is the case for every state except Nebraska and Maine. 31 electoral college votes are a very big deal. Trump can’t retain the Presidency without winning Florida and his polling numbers are tanking in Florida anyway.
A Yale Climate Communication review of a Reddit survey provides some insights into why Florida and other coastal state Republican voters are accepting that the climate is changing: extreme weather. 21% of former climate change deniers pointed to extreme and unusual weather as one of the reasons why they changed their minds and accepted that climate change was occurring. The Republican leaning coastal states have been hit hardest by observable sea level rise and more extreme hurricanes over the past few years. Hurricanes have been bigger in diameter, dumped more rain, and behaved in unusual ways — and of course, Florida is ground zero. Climate change and actions on it, in other words, are going to impact voting choices in 2020 in Florida.
Data Point 2: An Existing Congressional Bi-partisan Climate Caucus
Despite appearances, not all Republican politicians have been beating the denial drum. There are 22 Republican Representatives in the bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus at present. They voluntarily meet regularly to discuss bipartisan actions that can be undertaken. As their mission statement says:
It’s increasingly clear that climate change will impact us all, no matter where we live or who we voted for. We must find a way to move forward with solutions, despite our differences. The Climate Solutions Caucus is a way for our representatives to do the essential work of democracy, understanding each other and finding common ground. The work done by the caucus is foundational for future climate policy that will be stronger, more broadly supported, and more durable.
Their signature policy is a carbon tax, unsurprisingly, along with a raft of regulations that they’d like to remove to gain support for it. It’s a worthwhile discussion to have and the group is growing slowly. Fewer than 10% of Republican Representatives are part of it, but to be clear, no group formed around other major issues has 100% involvement either, nor is that useful.
Data Point 3: Senior Trump Allies Showing Movement
A very senior Republican close to Trump and strong ally, Lindsey Graham, is on public record saying that Trump should accept that climate change is occurring. Unsurprisingly given the other data points, Graham represents South Carolina, another Republican-leaning coastal state that’s being hit hard by climate change. That state only has 9 electoral college votes and is a pretty safe state with much wider margins than Florida, but Graham is understandably “tired of playing defense on the environment.”
When someone as senior as Graham is on record, that means a lot of people are saying it privately. Graham isn’t doing this because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s strategically important for elections.
Would it be hard for Trump to reverse his position? No, not at all. He’s incredibly consistent in his inconsistency, reversing himself constantly and without the tiniest shred of shame. He constantly lies about his former positions, as he did recently about his behavior related to his blatantly and shamelessly racist tweets about the four junior, female, non-white Representatives and his reaction to the racist chanting at his rally about one of them.
If accepting climate change would win Trump more votes than his denial does, he’d change his position immediately and pretend he never had a different opinion, except that he’d also throw bones to the deniers regardless.
Do I think it’s likely that this will occur for the 2020 election cycle? It would be nice. Of course if that happened, and the Republicans retained the Presidency and at least one of the House or Senate, the 13% factor kicks in. None of the solutions that they put forward would actually be for the actual problem, but likely pork barreling in swing states for adaptation. In other words, spending money that likely would be better spent solving the actual problem on inadequate bandaids that buy votes.
However, I would still like to see US Republicans at the table as opposed to kicking over the table. That would be a nice change. I’ve published on the continuum of climate change positions several times, and the important point is to keep shifting opinions to the right. Acceptance that the climate is changing and needs to be addressed is a lot better than a snowball or a picture of Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor showing up in Congress.
I’ve reached out to David Pomerantz, Executive Director of the Washington Energy and Policy Institute for comment on the politics that they are observing in the Beltway for comment. If a response should be forthcoming, the article will be updated.