Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Congressional Poll on Global Warming: Republicans still skeptical that humans are causing it

In a National Journal Poll (pdf file), Democratic and Republican House and Senate members were asked the following question: "Do you think it's been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made problems?" The unsurprising results suggest that ideology is a very strong screen through which partisans interpret science. From the National Journal:

Eighty-eight percent of the Democrats supported mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions, with just a slightly smaller percentage supporting a market-based cap-and-trade system. Among Republicans, just 19 percent supported mandatory limits on CO2, but 42 percent actually supported the cap-and-trade system.

As Michael Nisbet points out in his excellent "Framing Science" blog, the differences in public opinions about global warming are "a combined result of strong opinion-cues from party leaders and the ideological safe zones created by Fox News, political talk radio, the WSJ, conservative columnists, and other right-wing venues."

The hang-up for Republicans in the poll seems to have been the words, "beyond a reasonable doubt." Many acknowledged that the climate was warming, and that humans may be playing a role. But they balked at the idea that the science is settled — at least on the overall question of human culpability for climate change. It looks like the poll was conducted before the release of the IPCC report. Even so, it is striking that such a large majority of the country's leaders repudiate the judgement of most of the scientific community.

What this suggests is that even though the scientific debate over 'global warming: yes or no' is over, debate over policy responses is likely to be extremely intense and partisan in coming years. This raises a critical question for journalists: Who is going to take the lead in covering these issues? Will it be environmental journalists, who have the scientific grounding as well as the breadth of knowledge of other fields, such as economics and policy, to cover the debates effectively and with sophistication? Or will it be political journalists, many of whom think issues consist of only two sides, red and blue, and likely will not have the knowledge to integrate the science, economics and policy? I suspect it will be the latter. Maybe it's time to start lobbying editors for a team approach to covering the politics of global warming.

-- Tom

1 comment:

Falkayn said...


Perhaps the debate is biased that way in American, but I know that here in Australia the issue is more one of finding the liberalisation of the media turning conservatives off the 'evidence' for global warming - as much because they misrepresent it as because they have traditionally bashed the conservative politicians.

People that accept the media is on their side accept the pronouncements of doom at face value, people who have been on the 'wrong side' of a media debate in the past are more sceptical - and some basic digging around shows that much of the 'science' being splashed around is neither good evidence for global warming, nor even good science.

In Australia we have the Greens party clamouring that we need to drop coal exports (our single largest export at $25 billion) to zero in order to prevent global warming. The fact that this will change little in the short-term but introduce mass unemployment, a sharemarket crash and economic instability is why conservatives fight against knee-jerk reactions to global warming.