Monday, December 9, 2013

Two new polls: Indiana and climate change

Bumper sticker by Will McCarty

For those of you trying to crack the hard nut regarding climate change and our seeming inability to change quickly enough to make a difference, a brand new study from IU Bloomington’s SPEA Department and Indiana Geological Survey is a marvelous complement to a Stanford study that was released a few weeks ago.

The new study, whose researchers included the School of Public Affairs and Administration, University of Kansas, sought to understand Hoosier’s relationship between moderate belief in climate change with the desire for immediate action to mitigate climate change.

The conclusion, say the researchers, includes the perhaps predictable finding that the “probability of supporting immediate action is much higher among those who strongly believe in climate change than among those who are more moderate.”

In fact, the study goes further to suggest that instead of trying to convert climate skeptics to the reality of climate change (“since their attitudes may be guided by ideology rather than ignorance or misunderstanding”), the “greatest increase in support for immediate action may come from strengthening the composite beliefs of those who already moderately agree that climate change is occurring.”

In other words, it’s time for the choir to start singing a lot more loudly. Maybe even get up, walk out of the church, roll up the sleeves their robes and get busy.

Among the researchers is Shahzeen Attari, whom I interviewed for Indiana Living Green in early 2013. 

The Stanford poll

In the Stanford poll, the results were encouraging, but also downright maddening. Among Hoosiers, global warming is happening (79%), past warming is caused by humans (77%), and “government should limit greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. businesses:” (73%). However, here’s the maddening part: In the category of Engagement, “Warming is extremely important personally (and is likely to influence voting):” only 8% of respondents said yes.

So… global warming is happening, people are creating it, government should do something about it, but … only 8% think it’s of extreme importance?

It’s easy to speculate about why this number is so low. Climate change is such an enormous, intimidating issue, it’s difficult to see our way through. It’s safer to perceive these problems (“Warming will be a serious problem for the U.S.: 72%”) as impacting others, not oneself.

The Indiana poll

The newly released IU research posits: “Americans are increasingly convinced that climate change is occurring. However, public policy, particularly at the federal level, has lagged behind this movement in public opinion.”

While no particular policy initiatives are covered in their survey — such as a carbon tax — the research “gauges the degree of public support for ‘immediate action.’”

Why is Indiana specifically of interest? Because we are particularly unresponsive to the issue of climate change.

As the researchers put it:

“Indiana is one of only six of states that have not adopted any of the following (as of November 2013): GHG [Greenhouse Gas] emissions targets, GHG emission caps for electricity production, climate action or adaptation plans, climate change commissions or advisory groups, participation in regional climate initiatives, or GHG reporting registries.”

Given the prevalence of coal in Indiana, there is a vested business interest in not making change, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus around climate change.

I’ll let the research speak for itself here, in this key paragraph:

When asked for their opinion on mitigating climate change, only a minority supported immediate action to reduce climate change: Thirty-eight percent preferred immediate action; 50% preferred more research; and 12% responded that no action should be taken to reduce climate change. While this might lead to the expectation of ambivalence among the respondents about the reality or dangers of climate change, the data show a different story. A large majority of respondents agreed, to some extent, with the statements about climate change…. Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed that climate change is occurring, 71% agreed that it has been established as a serious problem, and 80% agreed that human activities contribute to climate change. [My emphasis added.]

So. A similar conclusion to the Stanford poll: widespread understanding — even alarm — regarding the reality of climate change, but a relatively lame number when it comes to action.

The IU research goes on to suggest there is “a specific threshold at which policy makers begin to acknowledge and respond to public support for various climate policies.”

So there you have it, choir leaders, choir and those of you stacking the donuts in the church basement. There’s a threshold awaiting you. Get busy.

You can download a free copy of the IU-led research here.


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