Why Some Americans Don’t Worry About Climate Change

(with Mayor Jennifer Roberts of Charlotte, NC)

National polling data — including ecoAmerica’s — reveals that the vast majority of Americans are concerned about our changing climate. But there remain a staunch group of Americans who believe that the science is wrong, that the crisis is manufactured, and that we do not need to take action to change anything.

The Americans who fall into this category share many characteristics. More than half of them are white, older, and male, and they tend to live in rural areas and be members of the working class. They value hard work, independence, family, and tradition. They love their country and they want a better future for their children. And they are likely watching FOX for their news.

How can they continue to disregard reports from scientists, the UN, and even the US Federal Government that climate impacts are increasing and are made worse by human activity? A recent report written by the non-profit Public Citizen reveals the (obvious) reasons.

FOX is the most watched cable network in the country. There are 2.5 million viewers for FOX News and over 3.3 million watching Sean Hannity every night. Their median age is 65, they are 94% white, and 54% are registered Republicans.

The report found that the millions who turn to FOX for their news “are regularly bombarded with messages intended to undermine climate science, cast climate advocates as hysterical and frame climate policy as dangerous and un-American.” The numbers are revealing. Of the average 65 monthly segments on climate change for the period January 1 – June 30, 2019, 86% of them were dismissive of the issue and cast its consequences in doubt.

The top three rated FOX news programs ran more segments on climate change than progressive-leaning MSNBC, four more per month in the first six months of 2019. Of the 10 contributors who each commented at least twice on climate during the same period, not a single one was a climate scientist. Their most frequent messages about climate were political, not scientific, and centered around the ideas that 1) climate change is a radical Democratic view supportive of big government; 2) taking climate action would kill our economy; and 3) concern about the climate crisis is just liberal hysteria.

Our work and research at ecoAmerica paints a different picture. Many who are taking climate action are not “radical” or big government supporters, and they certainly are not hysterical. We find many conservatives are not only aware of the climate change, and concerned, but are taking action for their communities, like Congressman Francis Rooney (R, FL19), who has strongly advocated to stop burning coal. His district in Southwest Florida has recognized sea level rise and frequent toxic algae blooms as growing problems that hurt the economy of the region. In an interview for the News-Press he stated, “For a lot of Republicans, climate change has become an ideological thing instead of a science-based thing. Let’s look at the science.” It is precisely the opposite of the FOX news prediction — climate inaction — that will kill jobs in Southwest Florida.

Leaders in other sectors – such as those in the faith community — have also stepped up to support climate solutions. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is just one of many denominations that have made creation care, and climate action, part of their ministry, through partnership with Blessed Tomorrow. Goals #2 and #3 of the Episcopal Church’s Vision for Creation Care are to “Stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable victims of the impact of climate change…and set climate mitigation benchmarks as individuals and as a church.”

Numerous health professionals, through national organizations such as the American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American College of Sports Medicine – whose outdoor athletes are dealing with hotter seasons – have shown support for cleaner energy and climate solutions that bring cleaner, healthier air. The recent US Call to Action on Climate, Health and Equity was signed by 73 medical and public health groups to declare climate change a “health emergency” and urge action.

Why does FOX work so hard to debunk climate science? There are many reasons, including the powerful influence and funding of the oil and gas industry, the need to appeal to an audience and ratings, and others. But what Americans should know is that there are still many businesses, leaders, and non-profits — with no social or political agenda other than protecting the future — that are tackling the issue in a bi-partisan, inclusive, and proactive way. ecoAmerica is just one of them.

At ecoAmerica, we work with Democrats and Republicans, businesses and faith denominations, local leaders and health professionals, and more, to expand and diversify public support and political will for climate solutions. We focus on the positive actions and personal benefits of climate solutions. We help our partners take the climate conversation off of the debate field and successfully into living rooms, community rooms, boardrooms and houses of worship. We help empower a new diversity of professionals, leaders, and everyday Americans to take action that results in cleaner air and water now, job creation now, cleaner and more efficient communities, and a better tomorrow.

The antidote to FOX misinformation is truth, personal relevance, and diversified visible leadership that promotes the accessibility, efficacy, multitude, and benefits of climate solutions.

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