Caribbean residents see climate change as a severe threat but most in US don’t — here’s why

 

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People in the U.S. and the Caribbean share vulnerability to climate change-related disasters, but only in the Caribbean is the public truly worried. Why?
US Navy, CC BY-SA

Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, Vanderbilt University and Claire Q. Evans, Vanderbilt University

During the 2017 Atlantic basin hurricane season, six major storms – all of which were Category 3 or higher – produced devastating human, material and financial devastation across the southern United States and the Caribbean.

Last year’s above-average storm activity was foreseeable. Hurricane intensity ticked up in 2016 and scientists have predicted this trend will hold as global temperatures continue to rise.

Though people in the U.S. and the Caribbean share this increasing vulnerability to hurricanes, they hold very different opinions about the severity of climate change. According to results from the latest Vanderbilt University AmericasBarometer survey, a strong majority of Caribbean residents perceive climate change as a “very serious” problem. In contrast, just 44 percent of the U.S. public does.

Why the difference of opinion? Our research identifies two key factors: politics and risk perception.

Climate change is a partisan issue in the US

The AmericasBarometer is a biennial survey conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project. The latest round was conducted between 2016 and 2017 in 29 countries across the Americas.

The 10 Caribbean countries surveyed include Haiti, Dominica and Barbuda, all hit hard by hurricanes in recent years. The survey found that between 56 percent and 79 percent of respondents in the Caribbean believe that climate change is a very serious problem for their country.

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Things look different in the United States, where the AmericasBarometer survey affirms prior research demonstrating that climate change is a partisan issue. More than three-quarters of individuals on the liberal side of the political spectrum reported that climate change is a very serious problem.

Less than 20 percent of those with conservative leanings expressed the same degree of concern.

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This pattern holds even when we control for age, education, income, gender and perceptions of disaster risk.

In the Caribbean, political leanings are far less consequential to people’s views of climate change. The AmericasBarometer survey asked respondents in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica to place themselves on a scale that runs from the political left to the right. We found no significant differences in opinions about climate change from people with different political views.

One explanation for why the Caribbean public demonstrates more of a consensus on climate change, then, is simply that the issue is not politicized in that region. People of all ideological bents agree that, in the Caribbean, climate change poses a very serious problem.

Just how dangerous is climate change?

People’s perceptions of their vulnerability to climate change-related dangers may also explain diverging views on the issue.

The AmericasBarometer asked respondents in both the Caribbean and the United States to assess the odds that they or a family member would be killed or seriously harmed by a natural disaster in the next 25 years.

In both places, those who feel most vulnerable to disasters more often report that climate change is a “very serious” problem. This relationship holds even when accounting for age, education, wealth, urban residence and gender.

Overall, though, in the U.S. people feel less exposed to hurricanes and other disasters than their Caribbean counterparts. In fact, most members of the U.S. public believe that personal harm from a future disaster is either “not likely at all” or “unlikely.”

Most people in the Caribbean, on the other hand, say it is “somewhat likely” or “very likely.”

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These notable differences may be due to geography. Because the Caribbean region is comprised of islands, a higher proportion of communities there are coastal. This, in turn, can increase the impact that storms have on residents.

Climate change and hurricanes

Some scientific consensus exists that climate change can be blamed , at least in part, for the hundreds of casualties and more than US$400 billion in damage that storms brought to the U.S. and the Caribbean in 2017.

Scientific models indicate that the Earth’s warming climate is likely to shape future storm activity in the Atlantic basin. Scientists are not sure, however, exactly how this will manifest itself in future hurricane seasons. Some researchers suggest that warmer temperatures increase storm probability. Others restrict the effects to storm intensity.

The ConversationThe 2018 hurricane season is just a few months away. Our research reveals that with politics removed and risk perceptions elevated, people in the Caribbean are bracing for whatever comes quite differently than their U.S. counterparts.

Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and Director of LAPOP, Vanderbilt University and Claire Q. Evans, Doctoral Student, Political Science, Vanderbilt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Trump’s offshore oil drilling push: Five essential reads

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Shell’s drilling rig destined for waters off Alaska met with problems in the Arctic and protesters in Seattle.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Martin LaMonica, The Conversation

This article is based on a collection of archival stories. The Conversation

When it comes to energy, perhaps the only thing President Trump loves more than coal is oil and gas. Just a day shy of 100 days into his presidency, Trump is expected on April 28 to sign an executive order to open more offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters.

The move is meant to spur the economy and reverse President Obama’s decision last December to ban drilling from large swaths of sensitive marine environments. Regardless of whether Trump succeeds in overturning Obama’s protections, it’s clear oil won’t be flowing from new offshore wells anytime soon. Why is that? And will Americans even support this promised offshore boom? Our academic experts offer some answers.

Legally protected?

Obama used an obscure provision of a 1953 law to “indefinitely” protect 120 million acres of marine environments in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Environmental law professor Patrick Parenteau from the University of Vermont explains the legal justification for the ban and why Congress is a critical player in Trump’s plans to open up drilling.

The law “does not provide any authority for presidents to revoke actions by their predecessors. It delegates authority to presidents to withdraw land unconditionally. Once they take this step, only Congress can undo it,” Parenteau writes.

Lessons from Shell’s misadventures

Meanwhile, are oil and gas companies clamoring to get into the Arctic and other offshore sites? Two years ago, Royal Dutch Shell pulled out of the waters off Alaska, citing disappointing results from its exploratory well. It also ran into serious troubles, requiring help from the U.S. Coast Guard, after its offshore drilling rig broke loose and ran ashore. Despite all the technical challenges, though, oil majors have been eyeing the Arctic for decades – and facing opposition to their plans, writes historian Brian Black from Penn State.

“A dramatic emphasis on Arctic drilling reopens debate on the pros and cons of development, arguments that have remained largely unchanged since interest commenced in the 1960s. These include the challenges of technology and climate; impacts on wildlife and native peoples living in the region; and strong resistance from environmental organizations,” Black says.

When it comes to safety, Shell’s about-face in the Arctic was instructive, says Robert Bea, an expert on assessing and managing risk from the University of California, Berkeley. While guidelines for offshore drilling have been updated following the Deepwater Horizon blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of Interior guidelines do not follow the best available safety processes, Bea says.

“Reliance is being placed on the Department of Interior best practices of experienced-based, ‘piece by piece’ prescriptive guidelines and regulations. These have not been proved or demonstrated to be adequate for the unique drilling systems, operations and environment involved in Shell’s operations in the Chukchi Sea this summer,” he wrote in reviewing Shell’s troubles.

Public opinion?

Even with these safety concerns and relatively low oil prices, the industry is moving ahead in the Arctic, in part because of fracking, the drilling technique that revolutionized the energy industry onshore, from Pennsylvania to North Dakota.

“Although it has gone largely unnoticed outside the industry, foreign firms are partnering with American companies to pursue these new possibilities. I expect this new wave of Arctic development will help increase U.S. oil production and influence in world oil markets for at least the next several decades,” Scott Montgomery from the University of Washington wrote recently.

Meanwhile, how does the U.S. public feel about offshore drilling overall? Certainly, few consumers will complain about cheaper gasoline – one of the justifications for boosting oil production. But support for offshore drilling dipped substantially after the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, according to an analysis of public polling by David Konisky from Indiana University.

“The fluctuating nature of recent public opinion suggests sensitivity to external factors such as accidents, oil prices, and Middle East politics. But more broadly, one can reasonably interpret the U.S. public as divided on how to achieve the right balance between energy development and environmental protection,” he wrote.

Martin LaMonica, Deputy Editor, Environment & Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate politics: Environmentalists need to think globally, but act locally

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The outdoor retail industry is moving its lucrative trade show out of Utah after disputes with state officials over land conservation.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Nives Dolsak, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, University of Washington

As President Trump pivots from a failed attempt to overhaul health care to new orders rolling back controls on carbon pollution, environmentalists are preparing for an intense fight. We study environmental politics, and believe the health care debate holds an important lesson for green advocates: Policies that create concrete benefits for specific constituencies are hard to discontinue.

Opinion polls and hostile audiences at Republican legislators’ town hall meetings show that the Affordable Care Act won public support by extending health insurance to the uninsured. And this constituency is not shy about defending its gains.

The same lesson can be applied to environmental issues. In our view, environmentalists need to defend environmental regulations by emphasizing their concrete benefits for well-defined constituencies, and mobilize those groups to protect their gains.

Environmentalists should continue making broad, long-term arguments about addressing climate change. After all, there is an important political constituency that views climate change as the defining challenge for humanity and favors active advocacy on climate issues. At the same time, however, they need to find more ways to talk about local jobs and benefits from climate action so they can build constituencies that include both greens and workers.

Pork-barrel environmentalism?

Americans have a love-hate relationship with pork-barrel politics. Reformers decry it, but many legislators boast about the goodies they bring home. As former Texas Senator Phil Gramm once famously crowed, “I’m carrying so much pork, I’m beginning to get trichinosis.” And pragmatists assert that in moderate quantities, pork helps deals get made.

Classic studies of the politics of regulation by scholars such as Theodore Lowi and James Q. Wilson show that when benefits from a regulation are diffused across many people or large areas and costs are concentrated on specific constituencies, we can expect political resistance to the regulation. Groups who stand to lose have strong incentives to oppose it, while those who benefit form a more amorphous constituency that is harder to mobilize.

On Feb. 16, 2017, after signing legislation to repeal a rule regulating disposition of coal mining waste, President Trump celebrates with coal miners and legislators from Ohio and West Virginia.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

We can see this dynamic in climate change debates. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt contend that undoing carbon pollution controls will promote job growth. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, argues that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan will destroy coal jobs and communities, and that “green jobs” in clean energy industries are unlikely to be located in coal country.

Climate change can be framed in many ways, and there has been much discussion about which approaches best engage the public. Environmental advocates can do a better job of emphasizing how climate regulations produce local benefits along with global benefits.

One promising initiative, the BlueGreen Alliance, is a coalition of major labor unions and environmental organizations. Before President Trump’s recent visit to Michigan, the alliance released data showing that nearly 70,000 workers in well over 200 factories and engineering facilities in Michigan alone were producing technologies that helped vehicle manufacturers meet current fuel efficiency standards. Regulations can be job creators, but this truth needs to be told effectively.

Pipelines: Local jobs or global environmental protection

President Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines demonstrates the difficulty of fighting locally beneficial programs with global arguments.

Environmentalists argue, correctly, that both pipelines are part of the infrastructure that supports the fossil fuel economy. For example, by some estimates the KXL pipeline could increase global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 110 million tons annually by making possible increased oil production from Canadian tar sands.

Rally against the Keystone XL pipeline, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2014.
Rocky Kistner, NRDC/Flickr, CC BY

However, both the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters support the projects. They believe pipelines create jobs, although there is broad disagreement over how many jobs they generate over what time period.

By endorsing both pipelines, Trump is probably seeking to consolidate his support among midwestern working-class voters who believe, rightly or wrongly, that urban environmental elites are imposing job-killing regulations. But these pipelines also impose local costs, which have spurred Native American protests against DAPL and opposition to KXL from farmers, ranchers and citizens in Nebraska.

Local protests have not changed the Trump administration’s political calculus on DAPL or KXL, which is why opponents in both cases are turning to the courts. But in other instances environmental groups have successfully mobilized communities by highlighting local issues.

Conserving Utah’s public lands

Federal control of public lands is a sore issue for Republicans, particularly in western states. Utah offers a fascinating example. State politicians want to reverse President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and reduce the amount of land included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. But conservationists successfully blocked recent efforts by allying with the outdoor recreation industry.

By some estimates Utah’s outdoor recreation industry employs 122,000 people and brings US$12 billion into the state each year. Utah hosts the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show, which brings about $45 million in annual direct spending.

In response to Utah officials’ efforts to roll back federal land protection, the outdoor retail industry has announced that it will move the prestigious trade show to another state after its contract with Salt Lake City expires in 2018. Patagonia is boycotting the 2017 summer show and asking supporters to contact Utah politicians and urge them to keep “public lands in public hands.” The bicycle industry is also planning to move its annual trade show to a location outside Utah.

Governor Gary Herbert has reacted by offering to negotiate with the industry. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in January that called for selling off more than three million acres of federal land in Utah, but withdrew it after massive protests from hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Hunters and gun owners are important constituents for Chaffetz and other conservative Republican politicians.

Wetland restoration project sponsored by the hunting and conservation organization Ducks Unlimited, Barron County, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin DNR/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Renewable energy means high-tech jobs

Environmentalists also successfully localized green regulations in Ohio, where Republican Governor John Kasich vetoed a bill in December 2016 that would have made the state’s renewable electricity targets voluntary instead of mandatory for two years.

As a politician with presidential ambitions who claims credit for his state’s economic success, Kasich knows that several high-tech companies in Ohio have committed to switching to renewable energy. As one example, Amazon is investing in local wind farms to power its energy-intensive data servers, in response to criticism from environmental groups.

Ohio froze its renewable energy standards for two years in 2014 after utilities and some large power customers argued that they were becoming expensive to meet. But when the legislature passed a bill in 2016 that extended the freeze for two more years, a coalition of renewable energy companies and environmental groups mobilized against it. In his veto message, Kasich noted that the measure might antagonize “companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years, such as high-technology firms.”

In sum, environmental regulations have a better chance of surviving if there are mobilized constituencies willing to defend them. And in the longer term, a local and job-oriented focus could expand the blue-green alliance and move the working class closer to the environmental agenda.

Nives Dolsak, Professor of Environmental Policy, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, Walker Family Professor and Founding Director, Center for Environmental Politics, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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