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Republicans Are Still Not Worried About Global Warming's Dangers

Only about two in 10 conservative Republicans believe warming will worsen storms and hurt wildlife, a new poll finds.

Scientists believe a warmer climate could cause more frequent and damaging flooding, like this year's flooding in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

As the world continues to pass disturbing milestones—16 consecutive months of record-breaking heat, CO2 levels sticking above 400 ppm the whole year for the first time in modern history—some folks remain remarkably chill. Specifically, conservative Republicans still aren’t convinced of the dangers of global warming, with very few believing things like megastorms and damage from rising sea levels will strike in the future.

That’s one of the findings in a Pew Research Center survey of roughly 1,500 Americans that reveals wide political divides on climate and climate scientists. Perhaps not surprisingly, “liberal Democrats are especially likely to see scientists and their research in a positive light,” writes the center, “while conservative Republicans are considerably more skeptical of climate scientists’ information, understanding and research findings on climate issues.”

When it comes to how the mutating climate could damage the environment with “droughts, storms that are more severe, harm to animals and plant life, and damage to shorelines from rising sea levels,” only about two out of 10 conservative Republicans thought these hazards are “very likely.” About half believed they were "not too" or "not at all" likely. Meanwhile, six out of 10 liberal Democrats considered these menaces “very likely,” and the majority were more in support of mitigating strategies like power-plant restrictions (76 percent) and an international treaty to limit CO2 emissions (71 percent) than conservative Republicans (29 and 27 percent, respectively).

Here are a few more highlights from Pew, which describes itself as a “nonpartisan fact tank” that “does not take policy positions”:

• 70% of liberal Democrats trust climate scientists a lot to give full and accurate information about the causes of climate change, compared with just 15% of conservative Republicans.

• 54% of liberal Democrats say climate scientists understand the causes of climate change very well, while only 11% of conservative Republicans and 19% of moderate/liberal Republicans believe that.

• Liberal Democrats, more than any other party/ideology group, perceive widespread consensus among climate scientists about the causes of global warming. Only 16% of conservative Republicans say almost all scientists agree on this, compared with 55% of liberal Democrats….

• Conservative Republicans are more inclined to say climate research findings are influenced by scientists desire to advance their careers (57%) or their own political leanings (54%) most of the time. Small minorities of liberal Democrats say either influence occurs most of the time (16% and 11%, respectively).

• But political differences on these issues are largely concentrated in people's views about climate scientists rather than scientists more generally. Majorities of all political groups report a fair amount of confidence in scientists, overall, to act in the public interest. And to the extent that Republicans are personally concerned about climate issues, they tend to hold more positive views about climate research.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.