Cliff’s Take: Where America stands on climate change

It’s not always about COVID or hyper-partisanship.

The author(s)
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
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Today I’m going to step outside the pandemic box and talk about something no less existential – climate change.

With the end of summer comes hurricanes and wildfires. I’ll surprise no one by observing that lately, they’ve been truly catastrophic. As scientists and advocates keep warning us, time is running out to reverse these trends. Can America muster the political will to make the changes needed? Not sure.

In part, that’s because even as severe weather events grow worse and more frequent, the country is still far from a consensus on what’s driving the shift. As with so many other elements of our society today, when we talk about climate change or the environment, we don’t share a common understanding.

Below I detail the relevant data of the week:

  1. Reemergence. The environment is making a slow and steady ascent in the public’s mind as one of the main issues facing the country. Though COVID distracted us in 2020, unprecedented floods, seemingly endless wildfires, and other forms of extreme weather have re-focused our attention. Main issue environment


  2. Human problem. Today, one in four believe that climate change is attributable to natural causes, down from one in three in 2017. Seeing is sometimes believing. As more disasters come our way, will opinion shift further? I believe so, but it may be too little too late. Over time


  3. Only big government. So, who’s going to solve this problem and the related issue of pollution or other environmental contamination? Here partisans agree – it’s up to the government to clean up our messes. Sometimes we’re not so polarized after all—existential threat tends to have that effect. But underlining the challenges we face, there’s less agreement around how these initiatives should be paid for. fed and state intervention


  4. Environmental skids. Speaking of big government, Biden’s approval numbers on the environment are on the decline, part of a broader downward trend. As an issue, this resonates deeply with his base and was one of the planks of his 2020 campaign. Yet it’s unlikely at this point, given this and the general weakening of his position, that he’ll be able to muster the political capital to move on it. Biden environment approval


  5. All things are not equal. Remember that environmental impact isn’t evenly distributed. Communities that suffer the most from it tend to be lower income or of color. Our recent polling with Axios underlines these disparities. Another look at our common theme—the tale of two Americas. Environmental racism


It’s not easy to mobilize around a problem you can’t tangibly see or feel. But as our environmental challenges get worse, turning a blind eye to them will only get more difficult.

One of the silver linings of COVID was its reminder that when the chips are down, as a country, we can innovate rapidly to solve our collective problems. Vaccines being the proof point. Is a similar formula viable for climate change? Not sure.


The author(s)
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs