On Wednesday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) gave his 163rd "Time to Wake Up" address on climate change in front of his colleagues from Congress informing them that most Americans believe climate change is real. Whitehouse cited a recent study released by Yale University scientists to highlight the gap between what lawmakers say and do in Congress and what their constituents really think and expect from their elected representatives.
According to the Yale study, 70% of Americans believe in climate change. That might sound like good news but there are a couple of caveats that we need to pay attention to. For instance, the same study found only 53% of Americans believe climate change is caused by human activity. In other words, one in two people thinks the direction climate is heading is completely natural or impossible to influence, which is just borderline better than outright climate change denial.
What can explain these stats in light of an overwhelming scientific consensus? It's the media war on science, of course. The Yale survey found 49 percent of people thought that "most scientists think global warming is happening," when in fact 97% of climate scientists agree climate change is not only happening but is caused by humans. It reminds me of the confusion around the health risks of smoking tobacco. Despite the fact that ever since the freaking 1950s an overwhelming majority of doctors cautioned patients that smoking can kill, the general public was polarized by Big Tobacco marketing campaigns and bogus cherry-picked studies made by ill-intentioned scientists or no real scientists at all, for that matter. Almost everyone nowadays knows smoking kills and it would be silly to think otherwise because you just can't keep the lid on this kind of thing for too long -- but just a few decades ago things weren't that clear in the eyes of the general public.
So the confusion among the general public is understandable when you realize the country's biggest broadcast networks collectively aired shows or news covering climate change for no more than 50 minutes for the whole year of 2016. That's how much time the planet and the livelihoods of millions of species are worth to them. When they do talk about climate change or events under a climate change lens, often there are no real scientists invited to the discussion or, worse, they air climate denialism.
With half the population of the country dazed and confused, this Presidential Administration feels legitimized to undo policies that were actually helping the environment and enacting policies that will make it worse. The most recent attack on climate and science, in general, was last week's executive order to destroy the Clean Power Act under which hundreds of new power plants would have been closed and replaced with renewable energy. The idea is to make 'coal great again', you know, last century's tech which has been getting killed by the market for years. Reviving coal use is like trying to put back horse drive carriages on the road. Pure lunacy, just like one of the most embarrassing anti-science hearing ever that took place recently. Last week was a 'good one'.
"Typical for this insider friendly administration. It's a polluter's wish list that's terrible for the American people. 'Sad,' as the President would say," Sen. Whitehouse spoke in front of Congress colleagues.
"The question of carbon dioxide as a polluter has been settled by the Supreme Court. So you have as a matter of law a dangerous pollutant and under the law it must be regulated. So this performance by the Trump show is a waste of time because ultimately lawyers and courts will give 'the law' -- the final say," he later added.
Yet again, it seems policy makers act with total impunity against the wishes of their constituents. The Yale study found 82 percent of respondents said the country should fund research into renewable energy sources. Moreover, 75 percent said the government should regulate CO2 as a pollutant.
If you feel justifiably underrepresented by these recent developments, don't stand idle. Write to your senator letting him or her know that what you care about stands in stark contrast to Congress and Oval Office action. But before you do that, talk to your friends and family about this. A previous study found two-thirds of Americans are worried about climate change but rarely talk about it publically.