August 23, 2019
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More Americans are concerned about climate change. Congress should be, too.

David J. Phillip | AP
David J. Phillip | AP
Water from Addicks Reservoir flows into neighborhoods from floodwaters brought on by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Aug. 29.

A growing number of Americans are concerned — alarmed even — about climate change, a recent survey found. This is good news and bad news.

It is bad news because, although the survey did not ask people why they were concerned or alarmed, it is likely that more Americans are becoming worried about climate change as its consequences become more obvious and severe.

The good news, if it can be considered that, is that as more Americans are concerned, it is more likely that needed policy changes and regulations will be put in place to slow greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, such changes need to come soon before climate changes are so severe that they cannot be slowed or mitigated.

Since 2013, the Yale Program on Climate Communications and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication have asked Americans about the attitudes and beliefs about climate change.

In the latest survey, done in December, 29 percent of those asked said they were “alarmed” about climate change. That’s a 15-point increase since 2013. Thirty percent were “concerned,” a percentage that has remained fairly constant during the survey time.

At the other end, only 9 percent were “dismissive” and another 9 percent “doubtful,” both down from 14 percent respectively in 2013.

These changing attitudes about climate change come at an important time. A recent United Nations report warned that nations have only 12 years to cut emissions before increasing global temperatures cause severe climate changes that will lead to suffering and poverty for millions of people.

In November, 13 agencies within the Trump administration warned that climate change will have devastating consequences on the U.S. and the world. The report’s message is simple: Climate change is real and it poses a serious threat to Americans’ health, finances and general well-being. The hurricanes and wildfires that are increasingly killing and displacing Americans will become more frequent and intense. Water shortages and heat waves, especially those that plague the western United States, will become more acute, causing crop failures and human deaths.

The president continues to deny the reality of climate change. That shouldn’t stop Congress from acting, however.

A group of congressional Democrats have introduced a so-called Green New Deal, which aims to dramatically boost the production of renewable energy while simultaneously reducing U.S. energy use. Although the proposal is too far-reaching (it includes calling for a living wage, paid sick leave, union protections and a host of other liberal ideals that have nothing to do with the environment), it nonetheless includes many elements worthy of consideration. For example, proposals to eliminate pollution from the transportation sector and to power the entire country with renewable energy aren’t ridiculous, they would just take a lot of time and money. Smaller, incremental steps would be more politically palatable.

A more modest bill would put a fee on carbon emissions and distribute the money to Americans to help them pay for less polluting cars and heating systems and make other changes to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. This reasonable approach is worthy of strong consideration.

As Americans increasingly experience the effects of climate change, expect them to become increasingly alarmed about, and less dismissive of, our warming planet. Policymakers must be prepared to respond with concrete, reasonable steps to reduce energy use and emissions.



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