President Trump really wants to undo Barack Obama’s climate legacy.
With an executive order signed March 28, he scrapped Obama’s Climate Action Plan, lifted a moratorium on coal leases on federal land, and started the long process of dismantling various other Obama-era efforts to cut US greenhouse gas emissions, including the Clean Power Plan.
Trump signed his executive order surrounded by a group of coal miners. It was a powerful image: a president who promised to remember the “forgotten man” flanked by workers from an industry he’s trying to jump-start.
But it’s also worth asking why Trump, a president deeply interested in his popularity, is following a course of action that’s highly unpopular around the country.
Earlier in March, the Yale Program on Climate Communication released a trove of data from surveys it conducted to find out what Americans actually think about climate change.
Yale mapped this data, and the visualisations show that a majority of adults think global warming is happening in every congressional district in the US — 70% of American voting-age citizens, added together.
When people were asked they support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, an even larger majority (75%) answered “yes.” As the map below shows, there isn’t a single congressional district where the majority of adults don’t support this regulation.
Still more Americans, 82%, say they’re on board with funding research into renewable energy.
Based on that information, you might think Trump’s climate policies would be politically disastrous.
But there’s another side to the data. Even though most Americans think climate change is a serious problem, few of them actually talk about it much.
There isn’t a single congressional district in the US where a majority of adults say they discuss climate change “at least occasionally.”
And while a majority (58%) of Americans think global warming will harm people in the US, 70% think it will harm “future generations” rather than their own. Only 40% seeing global warming as a danger to them personally.
So while climate change is an issue that a majority of people think the government should be addressing, very few people consider it a central problem in their lives (unlike, say, health insurance). To politicians, those stats suggest their constituents are unlikely to vote for a candidate based on his or her stance on climate.
Meanwhile, the minority that opposes climate action is well-funded and highly activated. As long as people who want action on climate change aren’t talking to their representatives about it, it makes sense for someone like Trump to give that moneyed minority plenty of political gifts, and take in their support.
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