As the Copenhagen conference rolls on, American concern for global warming appears to have reached a nadir. Poll after poll indicates that Americans are more skeptical of global warming; meanwhile the Senate cap and trade bill appears to be going nowhere fast. As with so many other liberal issues nowadays, the news is grim.
Most pundits attribute this skepticism to partisan politics. The theory goes something like this: with partisan bickering at an all-time high, Republicans are tending to reflexively oppose any Democratic proposal, and vice versa. Because preventing climate change has become associated with liberals, Republican voters are now automatically treading against it. This Times article exemplifies the strain of thought; it is titled “Rising Partisanship Sharply Erodes U.S. Public’s Belief in Global Warming.”
On the surface, there is a certain credence to this claim. Most would agree that partisanship is “rising.” Belief in global warming is also undeniably falling. Add consistent conservative disbelief of global warming, and everything links together.
There is only one problem with this theory: it is not true.
In fact, increased skepticism over global warming is not confined to the United States – as would be the case under the “Republicans v. Democrats” explanation. In Australia, for example, an October Lowy Poll indicated that only 56% considered tackling climate change a “very important issue” – a 19% drop from two years ago. More globally, an online Nielsen poll revealed concern about climate change falling in 37 out of 45 countries, compared to October 2007.
There is only one thing has affected the entire world since October 2007: global economic recession.
As the picture above shows, it is this shift which holds responsibility for climate change skepticism – not partisan bickering in the United States or leaked e-mails of scientific lapses. (Also note the graph’s previous decline, which took place in the midst of the technology bust.) When people’s pocketbooks suffer, the environment automatically lessens in priority. The immediate disaster takes precedence over the disaster that will come in fifty years. Or, if one is a climate skeptic, it may never come.
To give conservatives credit for increased global warming skepticism, therefore, would be akin (warning: bad sports analogy incoming) to claiming Pau Gasol single handedly brought the Lakers last year’s championship ring. It is to miss the elephant in the room: the economy, stupid.