The Electoral Climate

A researcher at Yale recently had an interesting article in the L.A. Times. In it, he suggested that “I’m not a scientist” disclaimers aren’t going to work with voters in 2016.

In the 2012 presidential campaign, global warming didn’t come up in any of the three debates between Mitt Romney and President Obama. That won’t be the case this campaign season, with wide swaths of America suffering through climate change-fueled record heat, rampant wildfires and historic droughts. Voters understand what’s happening, and they want the government to take action.

The question is, have Republicans gotten the message? Not quite.

In a poll conducted this spring by me and my colleagues at Yale and George Mason universities, 70% of Americans support placing strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions at existing coal-fired power plants. We also found that 75% of adults, including 63% of Republicans, support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And yet Republicans have been making the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan their latest punching bag.

The reluctance of GOP candidates to acknowledge–let alone embrace–the widely accepted scientific consensus is undoubtedly due to their need to pander to the party’s primary voters, base voters who are the most doctrinaire and conservative and most likely to deny the reality of climate change, and to the special interests that disproportionately provide their campaign funds.

This is the same dilemma the national party faces almost across the board: the party’s increasingly rabid base strongly rejects positions that are widely held among American voters generally. In order to win the affections of the base–in order to secure the nomination–a candidate must take positions that effectively poison his/her chances in the general.

In another Yale/George Mason poll conducted last year, we found that, overall, Americans are two times more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly supports action to reduce global warming, and three times more likely to vote against a political candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming. Only conservative Republicans are slightly more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming.

And to add insult to injury, if the GOP hasn’t done enough to repel Latino voters, a recent poll by the New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future found that 95% of Latinos think the federal government should take at least some action to tackle climate change.

The real irony is this: while the more traditional candidates (I was going to say “credible” but I think that’s probably stretching it) swallow hard and disclaim belief in evolution and climate change, the primary voters insisting on these anti-science stances  in return for their support are currently splitting their allegiances between an embarrassing and tasteless narcissist and a soft-spoken, albeit certifiably insane, theocrat–neither of whom has a clue what government is or how it operates.


  1. Most Americans understood the term “destroying the environment” regarding our actions and understood the importance of recycling in our throw-away society. Look at the amount of packaging on all we buy; most of it throw-away and prices are raised to pay for it…someone has to cover the cost and it won’t be the manufacturer. The change to the technical term “Global Warming” was and is misunderstood so is not accepted by many. The difference between the terms “Climate Change” (which has been on-going world-wide since the formation of the planet), and “Global Warming” are misunderstood by many who believe them to be interchangeable. Semantics are vital in today’s world, especially the world of politics in this country. Make it simple; less is more in this case.

  2. Thanks for bringing up this important topic Prof K. It is way to late to get an early start on this problem. Now we need to deal with the affects that are GOING to happen. The permafrost is already defrosting. The ice caps are already melting. This is in our future for the rest of our lives. The goal now has to be to make the best of it. How can we help the most people? What cities and nations are beyond saving? This is going to be huge. And some will make a lot of money. We must get to solar, wind, wave, geothermal, hydrogen etc as soon as possible. And do it everywhere. The deniers belong in the dust bin of history. Thank you for bringing this up Prof.

  3. In a time of 2 dollar gasoline, refusal to tax the dirtiest carbon that would fund not only our infrastructure needs in part and pave the research road to wean ourselves off the war wells in the Middle East, America appears to be far behind the thinking of the modern worlds needs.

    We seem to think we cannot move forward any longer without granting the greatest golden parachutes to the dinosaur industrial past.

    I’m fully in favor of research into coal cleaning, oil extraction and the logistics needed to use it but as smaller pilots protecting out tesources and environment until last resort.

    I’m more in favor of moving to cleaner natural gas, solar grid enhancement, thorium fusion, bio-mass, and conservation steps perhaps most of all as we seek ways to reduce the carbon footprint.

    I simply so not understand -with a history of innovation such as ours, why we cannot, at record low interest rates, fund the educational base to support the innovations of our rapidly approaching future.

    We can teach, provide jobs, energy, infrastructure and agriculture as well as rely on Internet technology to take up economic slack. We need a longer term thinking with a variety of flexible, plans , B,C,D,E,F at least outlined over 25-50 years broken into 5 and 10 year increments. That requires basics. Goal oriented education and infrastructure, and energy sufficient to platform the global reorganization we are experiencing. We can lead it or follow it, some of both I suppose but not ignore it. We have to know with urgency that now is not going to allow waiting. So the basic needs of people must be met.

    I believe that’s the new social contract written about here recently. Food, shelter, healthcare and all the education you can absorb in exchange for the commitment to build a future, here and for our world.

  4. On election Day I was out and about wearing my Bernie Sanders for President T-Shirt. I am a Baby Boomer to put this into perspective. A white man my age stopped and looked at me. He informed me that Sanders was a Socialist. I provided a mild correction and replied Sanders is a Democratic Socialist and offered him a pocket Bernie ( a pocket Bernie is a laminated business card with some highlights of his platform and link to the Bernie’s Web Site). His reaction was similar to what I imagine a vampire might have if I offered him a clove of garlic. He told me Sanders is a Socialist and wants the Government to control our lives, like the Soviet Union. He stated it was the Soviet Socialist Republic, with the emphasis on the Socialist and walked away. So the common equation among the Right Wing is still operable Socialist = Communism = Soviet Union.

    Actually, I was quite thrilled to have a close encounter with this fellow. He regurgitated all the Rush- Fox talking points, I thought – the Republican Base. I knew I would never convince this fellow to Vote for Bernie.

    There are people we are not going to convince that humans can and do effect our environment.

  5. While it is good to read about polls you took regarding the opinions of voters on global warming, I fear that Republican voters will still vote for one of their irrational candidates for President just because they do not want a Democrat to be in this office.

    In my county the Republicans continuously rant against gun control, welfare (they don’t acknowledge corporate welfare), a “black” President, the ACA, and anything else that their Faux news controlled minds are filled with. They would vote for the devil himself if it means not having a Democrat as President.

  6. Al

    the plan afoot concern the ‘Preppers’, the movement that we can retreat to remote fortresses, armed to the teeth and escape the wrath of the Hoi Polloi. And this plane might work for about a year or so. Until reality creeps into the equation.

    More simply put; this planet cannot support the current population, much less the future population mandated by the knuckle dragging Pro Lifers.

    China tried to address the problem by mandating only one child per family. And it might have worked except for the fact that everyone ended up killing the girls and then the men had no one to marry. Instead of us stepping up and offering to clear out our trailer parks and ship them women and Mountain Dew, we continued to rattle sabers at them and snatch up their products. Hell, it might have even balanced the trade deficit.

    Go figure.

  7. It’s important to look beyond being concerned whether climate change deniers are correct or not.

    We know, from the IPCC report, from many thousands of studies and hundreds of highly educated scientists from all over the world who have studied at least 13 discrete but related areas that this is event is happening. There is no argument, aside determining exactly how it’s going to come down. The data are not political, and they speak loudly. Insurance companies and responsible organizations (some fossil fuel industry notwithstanding) are preparing for it.

    On the other hand, we still see people who emphatically deny this oncoming catastrophe. This tells us that a lot of people determine reality by checking political echo chambers that confirm their biases and who turn to people who agree to travesties such as this for approval. To determine reality, they look at a narrow band of acceptable “information” and ignore the rest of what we know is true. If data agree with them, they like it, probably because it’s comforting and lets them deny terrible truth in the interest of other agendas. I wonder what agenda is more important than the survival of humanity.

    I realize that we need to be careful about those interpretations, but in the end, we need to consider carefully whether we want these sorts of people as our leaders. I think it’s dangerous, because if that’s the way they approach a critical issue such as climate, how will they deal with other areas where the data are not so overwhelming but demand good judgment? Will they listen to sources from an echo chamber over obvious reality? Is this phenomenon restricted to their view on climate or does it extend to other critical areas on which we depend on the insights of people who listen to science and the evidence?

    Ben Carson is a good example. On one level I’m concerned that he has a defective understanding of Egyptian history and an almost universal understanding of why the pyramids were built. At another level, here is a man who is totally willing to twist history to fit his preconceived notions of reality. I suspect that he is very likely to do that in other areas. That characteristic must take a great deal of discipline, because denial on that level takes a lot of energy and willpower. There is no doubt that he has used that in the past to accomplish a difficult profession, but he has also said that if he can become a neurosurgeon, being president would be relatively easy. That, along with other characteristics that seem to stem from the same place, to me, is dangerous.

    The failure of many Americans to consider these tendencies I have mentioned also reflects a human flaw that has put us all at risk from time to time. Everyone has refused to consider a critical piece of evidence in a decision, which hopefully was made better with good advice. But this is a flaw that could serve to be our undoing. We live in in a time when we desperately need willingness to integrate hard headed information and strong evidence from a variety of sources for our survival, not agenda-driven falsehoods. This problem goes far deeper than whether climate change is “real” or if the pyramids stored grain.

  8. Who “denies” climate change? The climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years. The claim is that man is causing dangerous global warming that will doom the planet. AGW is based entirely on feeding certain data into computer models which means the PREDICTION of AGW is based on 1) the accuracy and completeness of the information fed into the models; and 2)whether those models sufficiently consider all factors that influence the environment. AGW has found to fall far short in both respects. For example, CO2 isn’t even close to being the major greenhouse gas. That honor goes to water vapor, which isn’t sufficiently considered in the models.

    The models predicted more extreme weather. It hasn’t happened. Tornado and hurricane activity has decreased and is at record lows. The models predicted melting ice in the polar regions. The ice has increased there as well as in the Arctic. Of course, what do the alarmists do? They “adjust” their predictions to claim that those developments are consistent with AGW. It’s always a moving target with alarmists. When one of their predictions doesn’t happen, they simply come up with a new theory as to why that development is consistent with AGW.

    Recently we had a group of scientists commissioned by President Obama to explain away “the pause” in global warming also not predicted by climate models. They simply adjusted the temperatures to conclude that there is no pause. That is a conclusion directly contrary to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Science, the leading proponent of AGW theory. Then when those scientists are asked to produce their supporting material for their conclusion there has been no pause, they refuse to produce that material.

    Science isn’t about developing a political consensus around a plan of action. It is about developing a theory and being willing to share the data that supports the theory so others can check it out. Here we have government scientists refusing to turn over data and other public information produced with our tax dollars, information that would support or cause people to question their theory that the pause doesn’t exist. Why should publicly-funded scientists be allowed to refuse to produce information that may cause people to question their theory?

    We should never use the word “settled” with respect to science. If certain scientific principles were ever above challenge, Newton’s Theory of Gravity surely would have been one of them. But Einstein didn’t take the position of today’s alarmists. He challenged it and with his General Theory of Relativity proved that Newton’s theory on how gravity operated was wrong.

    As far as the politics of the issue goes, poll after poll show that AGW rates about #30 on issues people are concerned about. If Democrats think they can ride that issue to the White House, more power to them.

  9. If reality was different, and the brunt of climate change hadn’t hit when and as hard as it did, I’m afraid that advertising polluted politics would be continuing now in America unchecked. And there is, IMO, a critical mass of it from which recovery is impossible. (Think 1933 Grrmany)

    Paris is less than a month away. Much of what will happen there is political celebrities will take the credit for what political workers have labored endlessly to produce – literally an international plan to save the world from us, for us.

    While that’s merely good sense it will be celebrated by history as a huge accomplishment. The victors in wars get to define the national celebrations.

    I am delighted that we decided to leave our grandchildren an inhabitable planet but honestly even more excited about leaving them democracy here even if it is beat up and worn out some, and I’m confident now we will because climate change made science denial, well, undeniable. The fox got caught in the chicken coup with blood on his snout.

    Whew, that was a close call. But there is still work to be done. The now revealed fox has to be dispatched forever. The hole in democracy’s dike plugged forever.

    I watched Bernie and Hillary last night and hope and optimism sprang again as the evidence of our resolve to save both the planet and democracy was made tangible.

    Hooray for us let’s get to work.

  10. Kudos to Al Bush, whose analysis is spot on. Echo chambers versus hard facts in re global warming? Politics versus hard data? Guess who wins? Loyal opposition is good in politics; it keeps the majority from overreaching with its electoral advantage and tends to retard the inevitable onset of corruption and lust for power over time (see Lincoln Steffens’s autobiography in its discussion of corruption in municipal government). However, the loyal opposition in re global warming isn’t only playing out its mandate to resist majority opinion; it is choosing to resist overwhelming scientific proof of the existence of this coming planetary train wreck in the only atmosphere and on the only planet we will ever have. That is not opposition; it can better be described as stupidity. We cannot selectively believe in science to suit pre-formed opinion; that is not the way it works. It is what it is. We believers in science (law of gravity, penicillin, Salk’s vaccine etc.) must persevere as pragmatists and stand up to the stone wheels crowd.

  11. Paul, I honestly don’t know if I should even bother but no matter how you present it, 2+2 will never = 3.

    Yes the world uses computers now like we used to use flint points. Satellites too.

    Yes the earth has always had climate and over extremely long times it has been variable.

    No the weather is not what it used to be. There is more energy trapped here now then there was during the entire time that mankind built civilization and that is entirely attributable our dumping fossil fuel waste where weather exists, in the atmosphere.

    You just cannot make up facts. Your opinions on science are educationally unfounded and your data is from fossil fuel factories facing extinction.

    What’s new is we all, except for you, know now. Mr Emperor you’re bare ass naked.

    Civilization was built adapted to climate A. Our actions have resulted in climate B, C, or D depending on how fast we adapt to what we continue to change. Adapting to climate B will be extremely expensive but now has to be done. C would be way more expensive than B, D way more than C. All of them cost way more than we save by extracting energy from the fossilized past rather than directly from our only source the current sun.

    You need to address the source of your ignorance. We will not spend our grandchildren’s tax money to support your poor 401K decisions betting on a buggy whip industry.

  12. Paul,
    The data, with or without the adjustment is the same: there was no pause. Please read something that doesn’t simply confirm your bias. It’s getting a lot harder to find stuff that confirms your bias, so you won’t have to work as hard.

    It’s no longer IF climate change is happening and IF it’s caused by people, it’s predicting exactly how it’s going to fall, and whether we can alter it. And, by the way, by dealing intelligently with what causes climate change, that will lower pollution and we will actually live longer without people-caused diseases–unless you also believe that pollution doesn’t kill people either. Not a bad deal if we can do it, but if we refuse, the sixth extinction is on the way.

    Now, maybe people need to think about the people who actually deny climate change and have weird beliefs about the pyramids and how that might affect other decisions if they become our leaders. A certain Lamar Smith, representative from Oklahoma and chairman of the House Committee on Science, immediately comes to mind.

  13. Paul: The climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years.

    You better get with the Republican Program and the flavor of the day leading candidate Ben Carson. The earth was created about 10,000 years ago in six days. Pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain, and not by Egyptians to entomb their kings.

    Then we have this – on the Oct. 5, 2015, edition of the Fox News show Hannity, Carson said Putin’s “relationships go way, way, way, way back, you know? 1968 at Patrice Lumumba University — that’s when Putin first got to know the Ali Khamenei, and also Mahmoud Abbas.”
    Carson said, “In the class of 1968 at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, Mahmoud Abbas was one of the members of that class, and so was Ali Khamenei. And that’s where they first established relationships with the young Vladimir Putin.”

    Richard Sakwa, a professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent. “The claim by Ben Carson is garbled rubbish.”

    You have to wonder when will Ben Carson place a young President Obama in Moscow with Putin.

  14. Matter is substance with mass. Energy is substance without mass. They can exist separately or together. Neither can be created or destroyed but just changed to the other.

    Matter without energy is at a temperature of -460F and is stationary.

    Energy separate from matter is what we call light, or radio waves or X-rays or infrared or microwaves and it exists independent of spacetime. It travels instantaneously no matter the distance.

    Virtually all of earth’s energy comes continuously from the sun. As we have always had an atmosphere containing greenhouse gasses, we have always had weather, and the average weather over earth’s’ entire surface and over long periods of time we call climate.

    The moon gets virtually the same energy per unit area but has no greenhouse gases because it has no atmosphere. In fact it apparently has no liquid or gaseous matter at all, only solid. It does not have weather. The surface is at approximately 200F, plus in the sun, minus in the dark, for an average of 0F. Lifeless.

    Earth’s climate temperature is primarily a function of sun’s output, cloudiness (or other effects that shade the earth from the sun), earth’s surface reflectivity, and greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations.

    Burning fossil fuels releases substantial greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They limit earth’s ability to cool by restricting the radiation of energy out in space.

    So burning substantial quantities of fuel from life here makes it, on the average, warmer here.


  15. Ben, like his friends, believes that reality is what he wants it to be. Reality, which has all of the decision rights, regards Ben as an insignificant dust mote.

  16. Sheila, you’ve got to get off this global warming nonsense. President Putin is telling the whole world it’s just anti-progress nonsense designed to stunt our way of life and to commit economic warfare on energy-exporting nations.

    Nobody believes global warming. Everyone knows it’s just an bunk theory that serves a radical left anti-human agenda.

  17. “Nobody believes global warming. Everyone knows it’s just an bunk theory that serves a radical left anti-human agenda.”

    Fascinating. Risk the future in support of a business. That’s faith for you.

    One of the reasons that I encourage all posters to speak their minds here is that I would have never guessed what’s possible in terms of faith and culture. Apparently almost any belief can be completely sold without evidence with slick brand marketing.

    A good lesson for us all. Can democracy survive faith and brand marketing?

  18. If you were the smartest person ever, and spent your entire lifetime completely absorbed by what your senses told you about the universe that we all exist in, in the end, you wouldn’t know as much as does an average person who read one science textbook.

    Why? Our senses have been created to alert us to threats and opportunities in our very near locale, and at our scale, which excludes almost all of the universe.

    Fortunately most people who care about reality realize that and learn about the universe from reading what multitudes before them, using tools that extend their senses by many, many orders of magnitude, and performing countless experiments, have learned.

    Reality is far from intuitive.

    Yet mass media obscures those simple facts. It creates the illusion that education is no longer necessary. Professor Google or Fox or Siri or Cortana will reveal all to all, no time investment required.

    What an opportunity for shysters and demigods.

  19. It doesn’t matter if it’s global warming or cyberwar fare or biological errors of unknown kind or the next mass human epidemic of prion diseases. Wouldn’t matter if it were an asteroid visible for 2 decades coming straight at us. We do not train people for eventualities adequately in any direction, let alone more pedestrian concerns like jobs, healthcare or food.

    Water is a perfect example — but a distraction.

    The point is the –pace of change — and the likelihood of catastrophic events are geometrically increasing.

    Pace of change. Repeat. That’s the issue we fail to face that’s the deepest threat outside sheer randomness. We are not nimble. We do not believe in nimble governance. Our flexibility is pitiful and we aim at rigidity as if it’s a blessing rather than a curse.

    We create power structures and economic structures so disparate – it’s no wonder the pinnacles of each are so fiercely guarded the slowing them let alone killing them off to create space for the new is anathema.

    No matter which directions we actually go we are both bound by our structures and beholden to our elites as we’ve created it that way.

    I do not think we have the luxury of ignoring the pace of change or its ever growing demands for large numbers of educated, committed people to sustain and manage the human interactions that’s bound to occur. The incredible wealth of some humans while others are starving and illiterate isn’t new but it’s never been so easily seen. You do not have to read well to carry a poison or disease, a set of microbes or biological death and the sheer blatant difference between having access to longevity alongside poverty, the short lived brutish savagery of reactionaries resentful at bring left while some live as princes is already well known.

    We have great beauty in our hands and insist on treating it shabbily from lack of willingness to give it away. Our economics is in many ways immoral. It’s been under assault for a very long time and democratic idealism is no match for profits. When a families status is due to birth station and luck failure is within the community DNA.

    I’d challenge every religious or secularly ethical person liberal or otherwise to engage this distributive dilemma.

  20. I don’t believe the human intelligence level has kept up with the technological advances in the world nor has it taken into consideration the massive increase in population adding to the problems. More people with less knowledge or awareness keeps the human race from progressing at a rate equal to technology.

    I have to return to Alan Watts’ prophetic statement in the 1970’s; “Man is going to computerize himself out of existence.” We are on the verge of that extinction and rushing headlong into oblivion with our petty squabbles and losing sight of humanity as a disruptive but vital part of the world around us. “We are a part of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, and we have a right to be here.” But we abuse that right with our waste and abuse of our surroundings. Destroying the environment/Global Warming, by whatever name you want to call it, it is our reality today. Charles Manson told us decades ago, “Man is raping the earth.” If he could be aware of that; why can’t our leaders see it, understand it and seek to resolve the ecological problems?

  21. One final thought: The massive international conspiracy cabal, comprised of every reputable university in the world, of thousands of scientists in virtually every branch of the hard sciences have determined that, in a broad number of discrete specialty areas, that anthropogenic climate change is happening, despite the claims of our right wing and Mr. Putin. Furthermore, this conspiracy has determined that 2014 was the warmest year on record, and that 2015 will, in all probability surpass it, as will 2016. This dark group has also concluded that the world is set to breach half of the 2 degrees Centigrade required for runaway climate change and the consequences. You will notice that the only part of the world which is not well above average is in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. (See Our deniers can take some comfort from that which will allow them to postpone dealing with reality.

  22. Hi Jonathan,It can be confusing the nmuebr of claims being made that the world is warming / isn’t warming and that’s because the issue has become somewhat divided, often for partisan reasons.No doubt what you’ve been taught in school is correct. If a school were to knowingly misteach it’s pupils then it faces prosecution. Global warming has actually been on trial several times in courts of law and on every occasion the Judge has ruled that the facts and science behind global warming are accurate.Those who don’t accept global warming is happening don’t have an argument against the theory. Instead they have used more than 100 different excuses ranging from claims that the world is cooling, that Margaret Thatcher invented global warming, that it’s because Earth is moving closer to the Sun – all manner of unrelated claims.In your question you mention that you’ve learned that a lot of people are against the idea of global warming. In reality there’s not that many. It’s broadly accepted the world over, the only notable exception being the US where it is more of a political issue than a scientific one.If you look at global warming scientifically then there’s no question that it’s happening. No doubt you were taught that greenhouse gases retain heat in the atmosphere and that the more of them there are the more heat is retained. What you may not have been taught is the mechanism by which these gases retain heat, this is something that is governed by the laws of quantum mechanics.You may think that it would be pointless to try and argue against the theory of gravity, and you’d be right to do so. But it’s even more pointless to argue against the laws of quantum mechanics. Not only are these laws universal and invariable, but they’re the most powerful and successful of all scientific laws. Trying to argue against them really is futile – not that it doesn’t stop some people claiming there’s no such thing as global warming.Because the science is so solid, it’s no surprise then that there isn’t a single scientific organisation on the planet that disputes the theory of manmade global warming.So instead, what we’re left with are a nmuebr of uncoordinated, unscientific, and largely uninformed individuals who, often for personal reasons, object to the notion that the world is warming and we, as humans, are having a hand in it.It’s very telling that those who argue against the theory NEVER address the issue as a whole, instead they focus on the minutiae and on the distortion of reality. By adopting this technique it’s possible to ‘disprove’ anything. Take gravity for example, if it existed then trees would grow downwards not upwards, water could never evaporate, birds and planes would crash to the ground, the atmosphere would be sucked down to Earth not up in the sky, Earth would compress itself into a tiny ball etc etc.This is an example of the style of argument used by those who reject the theory of global warming. They latch on to an illogical argument and run with it, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge their own ignorance and basically doing everything they can to avoid exposure to anything that opposes their fallacy.

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