It became a little clearer last week what Americans think about global warming. The Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications brought out the most recent poll on attitudes of likely voters.
The first question asked by the pollsters was designed to identify the party affiliation of the respondents. The question was: “Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Other or No Party/Not interested in politics?” If a respondent answered “Other,” then this question was asked. “Do you consider yourself a member of the Tea Party movement, or not?”
There was some commingling of responses. A few Democrats, Republicans and independents “self-identified” as members of the Tea Party, and therefore were put into that category for analysis.
The most useful findings of the survey showed that among all parties responding, members of the Tea Party were less likely to believe that global warming was real or be concerned about it. You can find the full survey here. [PDF]
Not surprisingly, 78 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents believe that global warming is happening. A mild stunner was the response of Republicans. A slight majority of Republicans, 53 percent, said they believed it was happening. Only 34 percent of those identified as Tea Party members believed global warming was underway, while more than half of them responded that it is not happening at all.
The survey is instructive and worthwhile reading and seems to show, with the exception of Tea Party members, there is concern that global warming is upon us. The degree to which people are concerned varies from party to party, as does the question of whether the warming is being caused by humans and fossil fuel use.
Head of state Tea Party’s views
I wanted to get the perspective of a Tea Party member on general attitudes about global warming, so I gave a call to Randy Liebo, the head of the state Tea Party coalition. Liebo wanted to make sure that I understood that he spoke only for himself. Tea Party members, he told me, are free to think and believe whatever they wish, as long as they agree to three principles: fiscal responsibility, free markets and constitutionally limited government.
There are 49 independent Tea Party chapters in Minnesota and Liebo says there are 3,800 Tea Party Patriot chapters across the country. While certainly a force in politics, the self-identified Tea Party respondents represented only 12 percent of the voters surveyed.
I have been reporting on these issues for more than 10 years, and while Liebo doesn’t speak for the Tea Party, his answers are similar to those I’ve heard expressed by Tea Party members in public, on television and radio.
I asked him if he thought that it was accurate to say that Tea Party members tended not to believe in the science of global warming. Liebo said, “That’s probably true.” I asked why he thought that might be true, and he said that it was his opinion that “the science has been around for such a small length of time, and the conclusions have been debunked. That gives rise to questions about whether the data should be trusted and whether we should be making policy on this science.”
The science concluding that CO2 warms the planet has been around for 150 years. Liebo is likely referring to more recent science showing that humans contribute, through fossil fuel burning, to greater warming of the planet. That has been generally understood for a half century and there are few, if any, doubters among climate scientists and physicists.
“You have to be crazy to not want to be a good steward of the Earth, but in my opinion there is not enough evidence that man is causing global warming, ” Liebo told me. “Making wholesale changes based on what we currently know would not be in the best interest of the country.”
What we “currently know” is that 97 percent of all the scientists conducting experiments and publishing peer-reviewed science agree that humans are responsible for warming the planet.
‘Climategate’ and ‘hockey-stick’ graph
Liebo was troubled by “Climategate.” So were most of the Tea Party respondents to the Yale/George Mason survey. Fox News and other conservative media played up thousands of hacked emails between a climate scientist in England and many of his colleagues. Four of those emails were singled out and misinterpreted, misreported, misconstrued, but the result was a public relations disaster for climate science.
It turns out that several separate and independent investigations found nothing wrong in the emails, and no wrongdoing on the part of the scientists involved. But it still lingers as a misimpression, especially among Tea Party members, according to the findings of the survey.
Liebo told me that the famous “hockey-stick” graph showing a sharp increase in temperatures over recent time had been shown to be untrue. Liebo is a man who says he reads voraciously, but he apparently missed reading the latest finding by the National Science Foundation which upheld the hockey-stick graph as accurate. He failed to read that 12 other independent, peer-reviewed and published scientific experiments duplicated the hockey-stick graph showing increased temperatures over the same time span. Liebo also missed the report by the National Research Council that upheld the hockey-stick graph, and the work of Dr. Michael Mann and his colleagues. Liebo may have read three analyses of the work done by Mann, but likely failed to read the conclusions of reviewing scientists who found those attacks woefully flawed.
Liebo’s background is in business, and he says he has seen large companies leave for China and India because of EPA regulations. He says such regulation is forcing businesses out of the United States. Government regulation seems to shape a lot of what he thinks about global warming, and it may be true of other Tea Party members.
Liebo told me he was not aware of the investigations clearing those involved in the hacked email controversy, and had not heard that the hockey-stick graph has been proven accurate after repeated attempts to debunk it. He asked me to send him the proof. Liebo said that if the facts warrant, he could change his mind.
No matter what party one belongs to, you can’t ask for much more than a willingness to change opinions in accordance with the facts. After he has read the material, I’ll report next week on whether the facts had any effect.