Communicating Climate Change
Each day, those of us in the climate community become increasingly aware of the causes, impacts, and urgency of climate change. Many of us spend our days trying to communicate to the public and policy-makers in a variety of ways to raise awareness, make connections, and foster change. It’s a big task and talking about climate change can be a difficult but last week we saw some encouraging news as Brookings released their latest fielding of the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change (NSAPOCC). Below I lay out some of their findings and related work that USCAN members and colleagues are working on.
One of the key findings shows that after a period of declining levels of belief in global warming there appears to be a modest rebound in the percentage of Americans that believe temperatures on the planet are increasing. More specifically, 62 percent of Americans agree that there is solid evidence that average temperatures on earth have been getting warmer over the past four decades, with 26 percent of U.S. residents maintaining an opposing view on the matter. This is welcome news, especially as earlier this year reports of media coverage showed a continued decline in climate coverage. Read Stephen Lacey’s blog on Climate Progress for his analysis.
Another encouraging NSAPOCC finding showed that about half of Americans now point to observations of temperature changes and extreme weather as the main reasons they believe global warming is taking place. As scientists continue to study and make the link between climate change and extreme weather; this weekend’s devastating tornado outbreaks make this point even more salient. Not surprisingly, insurance companies have been connecting the dots for a while now. Last week, representatives of leading insurance companies joined Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) at a press conference to discuss the mounting financial impact of global warming. In 2011, U.S. property and casualty insurers racked up $44 billion in losses from heat waves, drought, wildfires and other weather-related disasters. For coverage of the event see Ceres President Mindy S. Lubbers’ Blog on the Huffington Post.
The NSAPOCC survey also finds that for Americans who believe that climate change is occurring, factors beyond weather, such as retreating glacial and polar ice and declining polar species appear to be having the greatest effect on convincing an individual that the planet is warming. Expectedly, partisanship continues to play a key role in predicting an American’s views on the existence of global warming. The survey found, nearly 80 percent of Democrats believe in global warming, while Republicans are almost evenly split with 47 percent seeing evidence of increasing global temperatures. However, the study says, “other traditional demographic categories such as gender, race and educational attainment offer little in the way of providing cues about an individual’s standing on this issue.”
In contrast, there was some renewed coverage last week on research that found Latino Americans are more likely to rank climate change as one the country’s priorities more than non-Latino whites. The study Race, Ethnicity, and Public Responses to Climate Change conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 66 percent of Latinos considered climate change a “high” or “very high” priority for the president and Congress to address, compared to 48 percent of non-Latino whites in 2010. The study reminds us, “Hispanics, African Americans and people of other races and ethnicities were often the strongest supporters of climate and energy policies and were also more likely to support these policies even if they incurred greater costs.” “It’s a no-brainer for the Latino community,” said Adrianna Quintero of the National Resources Defense Council during a teleconference discussing the report. Another interesting and relevant report commissioned by the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change in 2010 solidifies the idea that Latino voters express strong concern about global warming.
The focus on vulnerable communities when talking about climate change is not only resonate, but also represents the explicate ethical argument on the subject, this in turn strengthens our narrative. The recently released Cultivating the Grassroots report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy supports this idea and recommends “Prioritizing funding for lower-income communities of color is not only strategic given that these communities are becoming the majority and support environmental change, but also because change that targets the most impacted populations has a multiplier effect for society as a whole.” For more on this subject, read the report here.
USCAN member Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) focuses their work in the Southeast, which is home to nearly 90 coal plants that emit well over 350 million tons of CO2 every year. Many know that African Americans and Latinos already experience disproportionate impacts from pollution based on where they live but may not make the link to climate change. With the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) imminent release of proposed industrial carbon pollution standards from new power plants, it’s important to note that these new standards could offer a critical new opportunity to protect Americans from the effects of coal-fired power plant pollution, particularly low-income and minority communities’ health. Last year, as the EPA prepared the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), SACE covered the environmental justice and environmental group stakeholders meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Seandra Rawls, SACE’s Diversity and Community Partnerships Coordinator, gave a moving testimony that highlighted the unique situation of the Southeast. She testified that the average age of Southeast coal plant is almost a decade older than the average age of coal plants nationwide. Not only does this disproportionate contribution to carbon pollution hurt everyone, but the Southeast is particularly vulnerable to climate change with over 2,000 miles of coastline, 2.2 trillion dollars in property, and home to 16 million people. The region is particularly susceptible to sea level rise, stronger storms, hurricanes, drought, saltwater intrusion, and the loss of ecosystems and coastal community resources.
This week’s Blog of the Week comes from SACE as they continue to focus in on the true cost of global warming and refute the recent attack by Congressman John Barrow of Georgia and 220 of his colleagues that argue greenhouse gas regulation may be too costly for electric customers.
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Blog, 3.6.12