Rural climate skeptics are costing us time and money. Do we keep indulging them?
by JOSHUA FUENTESSO
The last time I was in the South, I asked a retired state climatologist why he had become an advocate of global warming deniers. He paused, and then said, “To save money.” That was when I realized that, from a distance, deniers are merely greedy and selfish.
Many of the people I’ve talked to along the way have told me the same thing. And yet the consensus is shifting, slowly but surely. While the percentage of people who reject climate change has been declining steadily for decades, many scientists point to a recent spike in the past few years as a sign of a shift that is occurring on the ground. A 2016 survey from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that almost 30 percent of Americans, including 56 percent of Republicans, believe in human-caused global warming. A Gallup poll from 2017 found that the majority of Americans—70 percent, including 75 percent of Republicans—believe that human activity is to blame. And in the last month, both an NBC News poll and the Washington Post-ABC News poll found that an overwhelming majority of Americans—77 percent and 75 percent, respectively—believe that man-made global warming is a serious problem that requires immediate action.
While I disagree with many of the people I’ve talked to, there are many others who agree with me about a trend that’s becoming clear. As the global temperature continues to rise, deniers in Congress and on the public stage are losing ground to skeptics in the media, scientists, and the public at large.
To understand where this is happening, it helps to understand where we were in the past.
There are no data points that perfectly delineate a particular period. Instead, we often rely on political and social indicators to draw conclusions about what was happening during a given time period. If a president is in the wrong place at the wrong time, we might guess that there was a shift in attitudes. If a country is in economic trouble, we might speculate that people lost faith in government. If a nation is seeing the highest rates of crime and violence, we might suspect that people were losing faith in the police.
We can also use this method of looking at trends. For example, we can look at the general trend in the