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Poll: More than two-thirds of Republicans say climate change is 'not an emergency'

·West Coast Correspondent
·5 min read
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As President Biden pushes Congress to pass his climate agenda just days before world powers gather in Scotland to hash out a new international accord, more than two-thirds of Republicans (67 percent) continue to insist that climate change is “not an emergency,” according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

Coming on the heels of a summer that featured record-setting heat waves, wildfires and floods — all exacerbated by climate change — the result is a stark example of how U.S. politics imperils global progress on the issue.

The survey of 1,704 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Oct. 19 to 21, found that nearly all Democrats (78 percent) and a plurality of independents (45 percent) view climate change as “an existential threat that must be addressed now with major legislation.”

Yet less than one-quarter of Republicans (24 percent) agree. Instead, more than 6 in 10 believe, falsely, that global warming is either “not a real threat” (38 percent) or a threat that “the government has already done enough to address” (24 percent).

The poll underscores the challenge facing Biden as he aims to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to half of 2005 levels by the end of the decade and set an example for other countries to follow. Both the public at large and all but one Democrat on Capitol Hill — centrist West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — favor Biden’s plan to transition the economy to sustainable sources of energy. But Republicans do not.

Joe Biden
President Biden speaking about his infrastructure plan during a recent visit to Scranton, Pa. (Susan Walsh/AP)

In little more than a week, leaders and representatives from nearly every country in the world will gather in Glasgow for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has called the conference the world’s “last best hope” of keeping global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels in an effort to avert a cascade of devastating consequences for the planet.

A recent review of 88,128 scientific papers on climate change since 2012 has concluded that 99.9 percent of the studies agree that humankind’s burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the rise in global temperatures.

Yet even that fact is disputed by Republicans. According to the Yahoo News/YouGov poll, more Republicans continue to believe that human activity is not causing climate change (47 percent) than believe it is (34 percent). In contrast, just 4 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents deny the role of human activity in global warming.

The same pattern persists on issue after issue: A huge majority of Democrats and a substantial plurality of independents take climate change seriously and support the kind of major legislation Biden has proposed — while Republicans remain the outliers. The result is a consistent 15-to-20-point advantage for climate action among Americans at large. For instance:

● 48 percent of Americans favor cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030; just 27 percent are opposed.

● 48 percent favor limiting greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline-powered cars and coal-fired power plants; just 30 percent are opposed.

● 43 percent favor a proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions by rewarding utilities that switch to renewable energy and requiring utilities that continue to burn coal and oil “to pay more over time.” That is the $150 billion cornerstone of Biden’s clean energy plan, which Manchin has forced the administration to abandon. Just 27 percent are opposed.

● 45 percent favor “a program that requires polluters to pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit” if it includes “a rebate for families making less than $400,000 per year" to offset potential price hikes on “gasoline, electricity or home heating fuel" — a description of the “carbon tax” plan Democrats floated as an alternative to Biden’s clean energy proposal. Just 25 percent are opposed.

● And 45 percent say a major effort to address climate change would be "good for the economy because it will create new industries and jobs," while just 31 percent say it would be "bad for the economy because it will destroy existing industries and jobs."

Icebergs which calved from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier
Icebergs that calved from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier floating near Ilulissat, Greenland. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

There are limits to how much Americans are willing to personally spend to combat global warming. Without a rebate, support for a carbon tax falls (to 36 percent) and opposition rises (also to 36 percent). When asked to select “changes you would be willing to make" to help solve the problem, far more say they’d be willing to buy an electric car or solar panels with a government rebate (35 percent and 42 percent, respectively) than without (15 percent and 18 percent). And the most popular changes are the ones that require others to pay more, such as raising taxes on Americans earning more than $400,000 a year (42 percent) or on corporations earning more than $5 million (40 percent). Very few Americans are ready to pay more for gas (14 percent) or meat (15 percent).

The message seems to be that government, not individuals, should bear the brunt of climate action — which is why Biden has proposed rebates for most Americans, along with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Yet while a majority of Democrats (73 percent) and a plurality of independents (40 percent) agree with the president that “the U.S. cannot afford to wait any longer to pass major climate change legislation,” most Republicans (59 percent) say “the U.S. cannot afford to pass major climate change legislation right now.”

With additional reporting by David Knowles.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,704 U.S. adults interviewed online from Oct. 19 to 21, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.6 percent.

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