By Vivian Thomson:
My mother, who passed away in May at the age of 100, was a lifelong Republican. But she was also a conservationist and environmentalist who was deeply concerned about climate change. She could not abide pollution and the waste of resources. She was horrified by Scott Pruitt and by the president’s blinkered support for coal.
It turns out that my Republican conservationist mother’s opinions reflect Republican voters’ views generally.
As of this spring, a Yale University-George Mason University poll showed that 69 percent of Republicans support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
Even in 2013, by a margin of almost two to one, Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents supported taking action to reduce fossil fuel use. In 2017, 62 percent of Trump voters said they support regulating or taxing greenhouse gases.
Before the 2015 climate talks in Paris, 85 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans, and 71 percent of survey respondents overall agreed that reaching an international accord to limit global warming was important.
The bottom line is that, while Democratic voters tend to feel more strongly about these issues than Republicans, there is widespread bipartisan support for reducing greenhouse gas emission, advancing our reliance on renewables, and meeting our commitments to the global community.
What these poll results also signify is that many national Republican politicians are not only hiding from well-established scientific and court findings, they are out of step with of their constituents.
Republicans like Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush took the high road on public health and environmental issues because of strong public support that crossed party lines. At the state level, the three states that lead in wind energy, with 41 percent of installed capacity—Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa—were counted in Trump’s column.
Reasonable people can disagree about how to regulate pollution. But all of our national public health laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act involve strict cost tests. As a result, the estimated social benefits of the Clean Air Act in 2020 outweigh the costs by 30 to 1. Modeling indicates that the economy has grown faster because of the Clean Air Act’s regulations. This makes sense. People are more productive when they are healthy.
My Republican mother and I were of one mind when it came to environmental protection. Politicians of both parties who fail to strongly support renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are running against the tide of public opinion.
Vivian Thomson, formerly a professor in the Departments of Environmental Sciences and Politics at the University of Virginia, published in 2017 the award-winning Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press), a first-person view of who wields power—and how—in air pollution policymaking at the state level.