Failure to Persuade? Even after this Summer’s Disasters, Two-Thirds of Republicans are Unconvinced on Climate Change


Mother Nature has put it all together during an impactful summer of 2023.  The Northeast and Northwest have choked on smoke from Canadian wildfires. Vermont was stricken by floods. A semi-permanent “heat dome” lodged over the West and moved last week to mid-America. Much of the inland West has been stricken by drought, interrupted last week by a tropical storm roaring ashore in Southern California.

As many as 150 million Americans have found themselves under heat alerts during our season of climate hell.  A fire on Maui resulted in a record death toll.  Water temperatures in waters off Florida have reached hot tub levels of 100 degrees, in time to fuel the hurricane season.  

Even so, Americans remain deeply divided, along partisan lines, on whether human-caused climate change is to blame for extreme weather conditions. They are equally split on whether extreme weather conditions will increase, all this according to findings of a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released earlier this week.

The Post-UMD poll lays out how the nation’s political divisions have settled like a stagnant air mass over the environment.  In the survey, taken in mid-July, 87 percent of Democratic-leaning adults said weather extremes are growing more severe, up from 82 percent in 2019. Just 37 percent of Republican-leaning adults agreed, DOWN from 42 percent four years ago.

Seventy-eight percent of Democratic-leaning voters agreed that climate change is having an impact on the area where they live.  Just 30 percent of Republican-leaning adults gave the same opinion, with 70 percent saying only a little effect or no impact. Overall, more than 40 percent of those surveyed said their area has been hit by severe storms, flooding or droughts, with 45 percent saying their region has experienced wildfires or wildfire smoke.

The Post-UMD poll asked: “Do you think human activity is or is not causing changes to the world’s climate, including an increase in average temperature?”  Yes, answered an overwhelming 93 percent of Democratic-leaning adults.  The Republicans were split, 55 percent saying human activity is heating the planet, 42 percent answering in the negative.

The bad news is attitudes have hardened along party lines. Since 2019, as shown in the Post-UMD survey, Republicans “haven’t budged from their skepticism about climate change’s being a major factor in heat waves, while the percentage of Democrats making the link has increased from 79 to 85 percent.” A possible reason for GOP skepticism: Six in 10 Republicans believe that the media has “generally exaggerated” the seriousness of global warming and climate change.

The divide is reflected in public policy. President Biden has called the climate crisis “an existential threat to our nation and the world,” A Democratic-run Congress, in 2022, passed the Inflation Reduction Act, the country’s largest-ever package of tax breaks, incentives, and subsidies designed to wean us from dependence on fossil fuels. Republicans, in both House and Senate, were unanimous in their opposition.

In last Wednesday night’s Republican candidates’ debate, rookie GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy echoed ex-President Trump in describing the climate crisis as “a hoax.” As to energy policy, said Ramaswamy, “I would drill, frack, mine coal, and embrace nuclear.” The Wisconsin audience roared its approval. Many provisions to Ramaswamy’s wish list are included in a Republican energy package passed by the House earlier this summer.

Environmentalism, in these parts and nationally, used to be a bipartisan cause. Sen. Henry Jackson, D-Wash., crafted the National Environmental Policy Act, which Republican President Richard Nixon signed into law. Likewise the Clean Air Act, later strengthened under President George H.W. Bush. A Republican from Indiana (and later Washington state), William Ruckelshaus, was the first administrator of the U.S. Environmental Administration.

Our state’s first package of environmental laws, in 1970, was pushed by GOP Gov. Dan Evans and aided by presumed 1972 challenger Democratic State Sen. Martin Durkan. Opposition was led by such lawmakers as Rep. Dick Kink of Bellingham: my parents turned to a Republican to toss him from the Legislature.

Our state’s Growth Management Act had the backing of Democratic House Speaker Joe King (and rookie State Rep. Maria Cantwell), but also GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeanette Hayner. Four Republican U.S. Senators – Dan Evans, Slade Gorton, Mark Hatfield, and Bob Packwood – helped craft Washington and Oregon wilderness bills signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Contrast this to the present day. Eastern Washington has been hit by large and lethal wildfires, witness Medical Lake last week. Exurban areas near Spokane regularly find found themselves – literally – under fire, yet, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., led floor opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act and led support for the House GOP energy bill. McMorris Rodgers chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

A scientific consensus holds that human activity has intensified the effects and speed of climate change as well as being a reason for more extreme weather. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found “unequivocal” links between human activity and the warming of the planet, according to a 2021 report by the IPCC.

July was the hottest month in world history, at least since record-keeping began, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). Heat waves hit Europe, the western United States, even places in the Arctic. The global average temperature was 16.95 degrees Celsius (62.51 Fahrenheit), surpassing a record set in 2019. Temperatures exceeded 40C (104 Fahrenheit) in such European countries as Greece, France, Italy, and Spain.

The summer of 2023 has seen a record deadly fire in Maui, but also lethal conflagrations in Greece. July is estimated to have been about 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the average between 1850 and 2000, the C3S found, and 0.72 C warmer than the 1991-2000 average. The Arctic is warming at a rate four times that of the rest of our planet.

The C3S’ deputy director, Dr. Samantha Burgess, told the press: “We just witnessed global air temperatures and global ocean surface temperatures set new all-time records in July. These records have dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and extreme events . . . . Even if this is only temporary, it shows the urgency or ambitious efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main driver behind these records.”

Our political and cultural divisions impede the urgent need for response. The one GOP candidate who acknowledged the climate crisis, Nikki Haley, called for action – elsewhere. “Is climate change real?” she asked in the Republican debate. “Yes it is. But if you go and want to really change the environment, then we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions.”

There’s a strong element of nativism in Republicans’ skepticism and resistance. They’re not ready to heed encyclicals on environmental justice from Pope Francis or warnings from the United Nations. Or heed warnings from United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres that “the era of global boiling has arrived.”

One hope is that surveys show that young people, of whatever background or ideological bent, are intensely concerned at the state of a planet they will inherit. It’s revealing that an activist from the conservative Young Americas Foundation (proprietors of the Reagan ranch) asked the climate change question at Wednesday’s candidate debate.  The same week saw formation of a progressive PAC, called Leaders We Deserve, aimed at recruiting and supporting gen-Z legislative and congressional candidates who share an issue emphasis on climate and guns

At this moment, sadly, a polarized nation thwarts the need for a mobilized nation.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Another point of view from a Nobel winning scientist …

    • The Epoch Times is a far-right international multi-language newspaper and media company affiliated with the Falun Gong new religious movement. John Clauser is an experimental physicist and not a climate scientist; he’s a member of the board of the CO2 Coalition, a Koch / billionaire funded climate disinformation source.

  2. Another point of view maybe, but not a persuasive one. From Epoch Times, the Chinese-financed propaganda operation, about an 80-year-old Nobel physics prize winner who doesn’t have any expertise in climate science and spouts some weird untested theory about increasing cloud cover naturally cooling the earth? He contends a climate conspiracy because the International Monetary Fund canceled (or postponed) the talk he wanted to do on the topic? There’s plenty to debate in climate science. Even more in climate policy to address climate change. And every day there are more studies that do that. But please – dismissing fringe ideas not backed up by real evidence sounds like the process of responsible debate, not the lack of it.

  3. Joel – brief comment
    Re NEPA, I worked for Scoop in 1968. He saw NEPA as an important decision making tool – to inform the public and the decider of “consequences.” In my opinion, he would be appalled by the administrative process – agency and judicial – built up around it. “Decision making tool” It is not.

  4. ‘Chinese-financed propaganda operation’…. You infer that it’s financed by the Chinese government. -Fact is that it is partly funded by a Chinese spiritual community called Falun Gong, which hopes to take down the Chinese government. If anything, the ET is opposed to the CCP vs being financed by it. It’s opinion articles do lean right, in the same way that Joel’s opinion articles lean left. Apparently, any opinion from the right is propaganda, or a fringe idea. Unlike Joel’s (and your) left-leaning opinions, which are authoritative and mainstream. Right? Once you’ve decided that something’s absolutely true, you’ve closed your mind on it, and a closed mind finds contrasting opinions to be unpersuasive. Perhaps this is also why the UMF didn’t want to hear what Mr Clausen had to say, and why they cancelled him.

  5. An old political strategy: create confusion, then conquer. It was deployed by tobacco industry to delay health warnings and thwart lawsuits.
    Some folks involved in that battle have signed on to the cause of climate skepticism, which has powerful political and corporate enablers.
    It’s not left wing or right wing. It’s a scientific consensus with evidence before our eyes.
    On my wall at home is picture I took of glacier-draped my Hinman. The glacier has melted. A P-I climbing team practiced self-arrest on the Olympics’ Anderson Glacier. It’s no longer there.
    The “drunken forests” I witnessed at Denali lean both left and right, the product of melting permafrost.
    A drought and heat-fueled fire burned Lakeview Mtn. In B.C.’s cathedral Provincial Park, which was a stimulating climbed. The fire scorched land represented by left-of-center Canadian lawmakers, crossing the border into conservative rural Washington.
    We can’t succumb to confusion or polarization.

  6. (Joel) “It’s not left wing or right wing’… Yet, your piece is all about the problem being that folks on the right remain unconvinced. According to you, they are the bad actors within this issue because many of them are tapping the brakes on what they perceive as a course of action that is misguided. I happen to think that listening to the naysayers is worthwhile. It wasn’t all that long ago that the consensus scientific opinion was that the earth was flat, and that bleeding patients was a good solution to illness. We may agree that climate change poses a huge problem for humanity, and even agree that humanity is a major source, but have very different views of the solutions.

    You (and Douglas) may want to check out Judith Curry’s new book; Climate Uncertainty and Risk: Rethinking Our Response … Perhaps you haven’t heard of Curry? She’s a climatologist who has published numerous books on this topic but gets no mainstream media coverage. Contrast her with Greta Thunberg, who’s rise to fame came as a teenager, is not a scientist, and who has received massive media attention.

    • Clauser describes the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “one of the worst sources of dangerous misinformation.” My understanding is that the IPCC is one of our best sources on climate science. The 4th National Climate Assessment 2018 is also an excellent source, put together 14 U.S. Federal Agencies (NASA, NOAA, U.S. National Academies of Science, U.S. Dept. of Defense…); the 5th National Climate Assessment is due to be released this Fall. Can you David suggest another scientific institution that I can turn to for reliable climate science?

      • (James). Like you, I’d think that an institution like the IPCC would be a reliable source. That’s why, when an imminent person from the scientific community who has no apparent incentive calls them out as being “one of the worst sources of dangerous misinformation.”, I sit up and notice. Most people point to their ‘reliable source of information on climate’, based on that source supporting the view they have settled on. Many people have formed their views based on peer opinions and ‘drive by’ mainstream news watching. I don’t believe the majority of people really dig into political issues, like climate, to an extent that they’re truly informed. As a result, conflicting points of view are ‘wild speculation’, ‘fringe ideas’, or ‘propaganda’ etc. My response to your question is to keep an open mind and to listen to all points of view. Consider all sources and endow none of them with ironclad reliability. Think critically about all of it, and make up your own mind.

    • You’re just shooting the messenger. Mr. Clauser’s opinion would be the same if Vanity Fair had published it, except of course they wouldn’t have…

  7. A few years ago, I asked myself a question: What level of energy expenditure would each person now alive in the USA be permitted, to bring the total US annual energy expenditure (assumed to be proportional to carbon output) to what it was in 1957 (the year that Roger Revell and Hans Suess published their findings on the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere)? The answer: the level current in 1904. Few cars, few widespread electricity grids, no aircraft, no household refrigeration (unless you count iceboxes), no household air conditioning. Nor would that level of clawback be anywhere near sufficient, as the rate of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere was already rapid in 1957, and had presumably been going on since the adoption of the steam engine. Indeed, sediment cores in New England lakes document profound changes, linked to both industrialization and atmospheric carbon loading, dating to the 1850s.

    In his history of the American “Civil War”, James McPherson argued convincingly that the core question of slavery was about the “slave power”. Northern industrialists vs southern plantation agriculturalists arguing – to the death – over who would be in charge, with neither side caring much about the actual slaves.

    I argue that the current climate debate is similar to the “slave power” debate. Two camps arguing over who is going to be in charge, campaigning for power, with neither side caring about the actual climate. Because the personal consequences of actually caring about the climate are too terrifying to contemplate, and authentic caring will grant power to nobody.

  8. (David) “We may agree that climate change poses a huge problem for humanity, and even agree that humanity is a major source, but have very different views of the solutions.” Fair enough. But only one Republican candidate was willing to go even that far. Simply saying climate change is a hoax (as the young “hope for the future” candidate Vivek Ramaswamy describes it) and offering no specific solutions (ones that at least pass basic scientific fact tests) is nothing more than kicking the climate can down the street. Maybe when more homeowners cannot get insurance, and FEMA runs out of funds, the deniers will change their tune. Then again, maybe not.

  9. A claim often repeated in the climate debate is that extreme weather events are caused by climate change. This political meme seems an irresistible shortcut for a call to action. Even President Biden blamed Hurricane Idalia on climate change. The problem is that there’s just no scientific data that proves it. Climate and climate change are just too complicated to wrap up in a political meme like this. And consensus, either public or scientific, does not account for the lack of required data to prove such a claim. In fact scientific consensus can be a rather dangerous thing given what happened with the scientific consensus about eugenics in the 20th century. I’d be careful with consensus.


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