Age, Racial and Political Differences in Climate Change Beliefs

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17th May 2019 Environmental Studies Reference this

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Young Democrats of Color are Better

An overwhelming scientific consensus states that climate change is real and happening, and even worse, it is mostly caused by humans. And yet, despite given the facts, many people are still not convinced. Some people do not believe climate change is happening at all, many believe humans are not the primary cause of it, and others, although aware of the issue at hand, are still unconcerned with the effects of climate change. Research of age, race, and political affiliation on the attitudes of anthropogenic climate change indicate that each of these variables of human difference may influence perceptions and personal beliefs about climate change independently and systematically. In turn, there is a rift between scientific fact and the public opinion. A relentless disparity between social and scientific consensus on climate change in the United States demonstrates the added urgency of research and outreach to encourage greater involvement in climate issues. Therefore, understanding how public engagement is shaped by socioeconomic and sociopolitical differences is essential.

Research shows that the youth is more likely to understand and prioritize anthropogenic climate change than older Democrats and Republicans. Approximately 90% of millennials comprehend that that the earth’s weather patterns are changing, the highest rate of every other age demographic, while almost 80% believe that humans must cooperate to halt rising global temperatures (Brill et al.). This generation’s perspective may come from their education. Millennials are the most educated generated thus far (Fry et al.), and with primary and secondary schools progressively teaching climate change to the youth paired with a college education, there is a higher degree of awareness today. It should also be noted that humans in general have a hard time dealing with problems that have consequences which may seemingly not affect them personally. When climate change and global warming were just beginning to grow as topics in the media in the 70’s and 80’s, little action had yet to be taken (Rich). It was much easier for the older generations to ignore a new problem that was not very understood with an undetermined time of consequences. Today, it is much harder to remain ignorant of the headlines in recent years- earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, and tsunamis are increasingly global occurrences. Furthermore, millennials and their children are more likely to experience the effects of climate change directly than before. Differences between the generations grow deeper according to surveys, which show that young people are wary of the oil and gas industry. With each new generation, trust in the industry and its impact on the environment falls. In fact, because so many millennials are avoiding working for the industry out of their own morals, oil and gas companies are experiencing worker shortages (US Oil and Gas). A significant symbol of the youthful consciousness is the 21 young people, ages 11 to 22, who are suing the federal government over climate change.

Opinion polls from previous years have reported a racial gap on climate change, with ethnic minorities in the United States regularly asserting greater levels of concern than white people (Leiserowitz & Akerlof 18, 62). African Americans and Latinos also normally support climate control policies more than white people, such as the regulation of carbon emissions, increase of taxes, and improving fuel economy and household energy efficiency standards (Leiserowitz & Akerlof 18, 62). This gap of concern levels reported between different races reflect the possibility that racial minorities experience more suffering from the dangers of environmental hazards in comparison to their white equals. Exposure to such dangers result in increased environmental concern and backing of safety policies (Erikson). The systemic racial segregation of housing in the United States separated African Americans and Latinos into poor neighborhoods separate from white Americans. These low-income neighborhoods are “targeted by industries that follow the path of least resistance when deciding where to locate hazardous waste sites and other polluting facilities” (Erikson).

But the largest disparity lies between political parties. Despite its abundance, coal is a source of energy which accounts for at least a quarter of the nation’s overall global warming emissions. An additional alarming fact is that most of the oil and gas industry’s campaign donations are given to Republicans. In 2012, 87% of all the industries’ donations went to Republicans (Oil & Gas). As a corollary, The Republican party has been monopolized by members of congress whose supporters are profoundly challenged by proposals which might add to the price of burning fossil fuels, particularly coal. Democrats, on the other hand, have consistently been the political party with the greatest concern and support for climate change regulations. In 2012, Donald Trump accused global warming to be a hoax fabricated by the Chinese. This accusation of his stands in stark contrast with his past actions in 2009, when he and his family in the New York Times signed an open letter to Barack Obama for climate action. It should come as no surprise that Trump’s inauguration costs were heavily contributed by oil, gas, and coal companies. But with scorching wildfires, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels, climate change has become harder to pass off as pseudoscience. Now almost two-thirds of Republicans believe in global warming, which is nearly twenty percent higher than the amount three years ago. Nevertheless, once more, “belief in climate change continues to be higher among Democrats (92%)” (Climate Concerns Increase). In 2018, Trump, again, went back on his word to state he does not believe climate change is a hoax, but continued to say, “I don’t know that it’s man-made. I will say this: I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage” (Stahl). Consequently, Trump’s acknowledgment of the presence of climate change but denial of human impact continues to void the responsibility of man. This coincides with the general Republican acceptance that climate change is occurring, but disbelief that humans are the predominant cause, which nonetheless differentiates from the Democratic belief in anthropogenic climate change overall.

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