Republican voters have become less likely to believe that human activity is causing Earth’s temperatures to rise over the past decade and a half, despite the fact that the scientific consensus on man-made global warming has only grown more conclusive. Scientists warn that the world is already experiencing the detrimental impacts of global warming, from rising sea levels to volatile weather and more destructive wildfire seasons. As long as the issue remains politically polarizing, consensus over how to confront the problem, and the political will to push for legislative solutions, may not materialize in any meaningful way.
Even Republicans who acknowledge climate change may justify congressional inaction by arguing that efforts to curb emissions would harm the economy. Republican Senator John Cornyn wrote in National Review in 2015: “Yes, our climate is changing over time and, yes, humans have played some part in that change,” but “new burdensome regulations would hinder our economy.” The resolution itself notes that “any efforts to mitigate the risks of, prepare for, or otherwise address our changing climate and its effects should not constrain the United States economy.”
“We are way past the point where we can be rewarding people purely for empty statements,” said Ben Schreiber, a senior political strategist at the environmental organization Friends of the Earth. “Will Republicans who acknowledge the threat of climate change work to stop rollbacks of policies that tackle rising emissions, stand up to climate deniers in the administration, or challenge their party leaders who are attacking climate science? That's what really matters, and I don't see evidence of that so far.”
Still, even a symbolic call to action from Republican lawmakers could make the political debate over climate change less polarized. “If more GOP lawmakers start talking about climate change as a real and important risk, and start supporting climate action, that is likely to change the conversation within the GOP and of course, the country at large,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication. “In this case, political leadership matters. Cues from political elites such as public statements and stances of elected officials influence the views of the party rank and file.”
Many Americans, including Republican voters, are concerned about man-made global warming. Gallup recently found that a majority of Americans are worried about rising temperatures and believe human activity is responsible for climate change, with 84 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans reporting concern.
“That’s the unfortunate part, when things become politicized it makes it difficult to not take a hard-line on things,” Mast said. “But you chip away at it one at a time and that makes it better.” When I asked what he thinks about the fact that Trump has called global warming a “hoax,” he replied: “We all have different stances on this issue,” before adding: “Should we be able to work with President Trump on this? Absolutely.”