Why Red States Aren’t Denying Climate Change Anymore

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Some Texas towns have aggressively pursued renewable energy but face deep opposition from Big Oil

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

A recent U.N. world meteorological organization found that temperatures are continuing their unprecedented and alarming climb. Meanwhile in the U.S. political arena, Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he’s advising the nation’s 50 governors to defy the EPA’s Green Power Plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions after the Supreme Court ruled that the plan should be stalled. It appears the climate conversation among officials at the very least is still stuck between those asserting science and deniers. But how do the majority of everyday people feel about climate change? Is the leadership really out of touch with their constituents?

With us to discuss climate change, extreme weather, and American consciousness is our guest Katharine Hayhoe. She’s an associate professor and the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Thanks for joining us Katharine.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: My pleasure.

DESVARIEUX: So Katherine, we have record breaking temperatures, more extreme weather events and we have that recent report that came out from the National Academy of Science linking extreme weather events to temperature rise. Yet we still have public officials having climate denialism. How does that match up with the American attitudes? How do most Americans view climate change?

HAYHOE: Over the last 5 years we have seen a tremendous shift in people’s opinion on the question, is climate changing. Today the majority of people around the entire United States, even down the red states in the middle of the country agree that climate is changing. Now until recently though, the split has been happening over why. Is this just a natural cycle like we’ve seen before? Or, people ask, is it really the human fingerprint? But new polls that have just been coming in the last 6 months suggest that now the majority of Americans are very concerned about human induced climate change and are worrying that it will affect our lives as indeed it already is.

DESVARIEUX: Alright let’s talk more about those red states that you mentioned. You’re there in Texas, are folks connecting the dots? Are they seeing that there is a manmade fingerprint as you suggest or do we have business interests that are really greatly influencing peoples’ attitudes?

HAYHOE: That’s where I see people connecting the dots on whether climate is changing. The majority of people in Texas, as in the rest of the country, agree that climate is changing. But when we start to ask is it humans, that’s where we start to drop below 50% in Texas. Why is that? Well studies have tracked people’s opinions on climate change and they’ve shown that the main indicator of what our opinion on climate change is, the main predictor is where we fall on the political spectrum and who we listen to.

Because these days all of us are what we call cognitive misers. We don’t have time, you or I or anybody, to dig into all of the details and all of the issues regarding immigration, gun control, climate change, all the social issues that are being debated in the political arena. So what do we do? We go to our favorite news programs like our favorite websites and we get our opinions from there. And when you go to websites, news organizations, blogs, opinion leaders that assures the right side of the political spectrum in the United States, which is really unique when you look at every other country in the developed world. In the United States you find people saying, climate is not changing, if it is it’s not humans. Even if it is humans it doesn’t matter, it’s too expensive to do anything about it. Basically a whole string of arguments all designed to stall the progress that we’re making in the new clean energy economy.

DESVARIEUX: Let’s talk more about the clean new energy economy because I find it interesting, off camera we were discussing this like people are agreeing that the climate is changing. Why it’s changing might be some sort of controversy but there is a growing movement of people there in Texas that are pushing for renewable energy. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

HAYHOE: Yes. So let’s be clear there is no controversy in the scientific community whether climate is changing due to human activities. There’s an overwhelming consensus based on science going back more than 200 years. But in the media and public opinion there is this huge argument but what I found is, and this is kind of surprising for climate scientist to say, I found that I don’t think we all do have to agree on the science to move forward in many positive ways. In fact there’s 2 specific ways we can move forward and we already are. One is in building resilience into our cities, into our society, building resilience to a changing climate because everybody agrees, not everybody, but the majority agrees that climate is changing. But the second way we can take action is through investing in new renewable energy. So here in Texas already we get an average of 10% of our energy of the wind and on really windy weeks it’s more like 35-40% of our electricity from the wind. We’ve got over 25,000 new jobs in Texas from renewable energy industry. Fort Hood which is one of the biggest military installations in the nation in Texas, has gone all renewable. A little town called Georgetown just north of Austin, Texas has gone renewable and they made a big point of saying they didn’t do it because they’re green tree huggers, they did it because it was cheapest. So we’re seeing these tremendous reductions in the cost of wind and solar and we’re seeing tremendous potential for the growth in the industry starting in Texas and going straight up all the north states up to North Dakota. 

DESVARIEUX: But that potential in growth must be scaring some folks as well. I can imagine there in Texas you have a lot of big oil companies and so on and so forth. Can you talk a little bit about that Katherine, what the opposition is like?

HAYHOE: Yes. Well for individuals there’s a lot of opportunity. I have seen farmers and ranchers all over west Texas who wouldn’t even hug a tree if they could find one. They’re putting wind turbines up on their land not as an altruistic sentiment but because it simply is good economics. On the other hand though we are looking at a huge shift in how we get our energy. And that shift will be good for our economy. Renewable energy per megawatt hour is more jobs than fossil fuels. It increases energy independence, it has all kinds of positive results. But the reality though is that those two have the money and the power in the fossil fuel based economy are not necessarily the same that will have the money and the power in the new clean energy economy. There is a grand storm on their way. There is a title shift coming and that frightens many who would prefer to preserve the status quo.

DESVARIEUX: Alright I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about some of your work you do with faith based groups. Can you make the connection between faith based groups and climate action and how are you able to connect climate justice with these faith based groups?

HAYHOE: Often we assume that you have to be a certain type of person to care about climate change. We have to be a tree hugger or someone who likes bikes to work, somebody who recycles. Of course those types of people do tend to care very deeply about climate change. But the reality is that if we’re human living on this planet, if this is the only home we have, then we have all the values we need to care about climate change. We don’t have to implant or instill new values in our heart. Even more so, if our values come from our faith because whether you’re looking at the Christian faith or whether you’re looking at other major world religions almost every major world religion believes that we have a responsibility to care for God’s creation and to care for other people who are less fortunate than we are. That’s why we care about climate change because it’s disproportionately affecting the vulnerable among us. It’s not just about us, it’s about others too. So I believe that by connecting our hearts to our heads we can bring so much more to climate action. [Inaudible] on cold hard facts.

DESVARIEUX: Katherine I want to talk about more of that action. What specific policies should people be advocating for? What states’ really getting it right?

HAYHOE: That’s a tough question. I’m a scientist and so my perspective on policy is that of the average citizen. I have policies that are simple that, make sense, that don’t necessarily mean that more money goes to the government but that mean that more money goes back into our pockets in the economy. So my personal favorite solution is a citizen’s climate lobby which is the idea that we put a simple price on carbon that enables the average consumer to make responsible decisions and that those revenues go back to the average consumer through reduction in our taxes. Now this may sound like a bit of a fairy tale or fantasy but they have this exact system in place in British Columbia in Canada since 2007. Over that time the economy has grown. Personal income taxes have dropped to the lowest in Canada and corporate income taxes are some of the lowest in all of North America. So it works.

DESVARIEUX: Alright Katherine Hayhoe, very very interesting perspective. Thank you so much for joining us.

HAYHOE: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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