Tuesday April 23, 2019
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America’s View On Climate Change Gets Influenced By Disasters: Poll

When climate change becomes “a problem in general but also specifically their problem, then people are going to have more ownership of it,” Swain said.

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Climate Change
This combination of Dec. 13 and 17, 2018 photos shows downtown Salt Lake City during clear and an inversion day. VOA

When it comes to their views on climate change, Americans are looking at natural disasters and their local weather, according to a new poll.

Lately, that means record deadly wildfires in California, rainfall by the foot in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit and the dome of smog over Salt Lake City that engineer Caleb Gregg steps into when he walks out his door in winter.

“I look at it every day,” Gregg said from Salt Lake City, where winter days with some of the country’s worst air starting a few years ago dinged the city’s reputation as a pristine sports city and spurred state leaders to ramp up clean-air initiatives. “You look out and see pollution just sitting over the valley.”

“I’ve never really doubted climate change – in the last five-ish years it’s become even more evident, just by seeing the weather,” the 25-year-old said. “We know we’re polluting, and we know pollution is having an effect on the environment.”

Fire, CLimate Change, California, fossil fuels
Firefighters battle a wildfire as it threatens to jump a street near Oroville, California. VOA

The poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago finds 74 percent of Americans say extreme weather in the past five years — hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves — has influenced their opinions about climate change. That includes half of Americans who say these recent events have influenced their thinking a great deal or a lot.

About as many, 71 percent, said the weather they experience daily in their own areas has influenced their thinking about climate change science.

The survey was conducted in November, a few days before the federal government released a major report revving up scientific warnings about the impact of climate change, including the growing toll of extreme storms and droughts.

The share of Americans who said they think the climate is changing has held roughly steady over the last year — about 7 in 10 Americans think climate change is happening. Among those, 60 percent say climate change is caused mostly or entirely by humans, and another 28 percent think it’s about an equal mix of human activities and natural changes.

Overall, 9 percent of Americans said climate change is not happening, and another 19 percent said they were not sure.

Climate Change, hurricane michael, Storms
In this photograph released by the Sri Lankan Air Force media division on May 29, 2017, flooding is seen in the country’s Matara district. VOA

The poll finds Americans’ personal observations of real-time natural disasters and the weather around them have more impact than news stories or statements by religious or political leaders.

“It speaks to what we know of what people trust. They trust themselves and their own experiences,” said Heidi Roop, a climate scientist at the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group who focuses on the science of climate change communication.

For a long time, the idea that the acrid black billows from car and truck tailpipes and power plant smokestacks were altering the earth’s atmosphere still seemed abstract, with any impacts decades away.

“With the extreme events that we’ve been seeing, we’re increasingly able to attribute, or pull out, how human-caused climate change is making those more severe,” Roop said.

When wildfires get bigger and more frequent, floods bigger and smog more entrenched, it begins to hit “the things that we all hold dear, and that’s when people get affected and begin to connect the dots,” Roop said.

But a minority of Americans still connect to different dots: While the poll finds most of those who believe in climate change say it’s caused by human activity or an equal mix of human activity and natural causes, roughly 1 in 10 attribute climate change to natural changes in the environment.

Hurricane, climate change, disasters, U.S., economic, storms
Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey overflow from Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston, Texas, VOA

In West Haven, Connecticut, 69-year-old Alan Perkins says he can see the climate is in fact changing — the Atlantic beaches a few blocks from his house are about a third smaller than when he used to play on the sand as a kid, Perkins said by phone. Scientists say climate change will mean warming oceans expand and waves get rougher, eating away at shorelines.

“I see erosion along our shorelines. Our beaches are getting smaller. I see that,” Perkins said.

“I’m just not sure exactly how much we can do about that. I think nature takes care of a lot of it. Like when it rains it cleans the air. I think nature kind of takes care of itself,” Perkins said. “A lot of it is just in God’s hands, and he’s in control.”

Elizabeth Renz, a 62-year-old homemaker in Cincinnati, says the rise in temperatures globally and the surge in natural disasters in the United States is “just happening naturally.”

“Our earth is cycling through it, and I don’t know there’s much we can do about it,” she said.

She points to communities expanding into deserts and other unwelcoming terrain.

“We’re living in areas that we shouldn’t be living in,” she said.

Climate Change, Hurricanes
Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C.. VOA

The poll shows Americans are ready to pay more to deal with the changing climate — but not to pay very much.

A majority of Americans, 57 percent, would support a proposal that would add a $1 monthly fee to their electricity bills to combat climate change. But most oppose proposals that would increase their own monthly costs by $10 or more.

The poll also examined views on one of the Trump administration’s proposals to roll back future mileage standards for cars and light trucks. That would hit one of the Obama administration’s key efforts to reduce climate-changing fossil fuel emissions.

When told the proposal to freeze standards could lower the cost of vehicles — the Trump administration’s argument for the rollback — 49 percent said they support the proposal, compared with 17 percent who were opposed. Another third said they neither support nor oppose.

But when the question suggested the freeze could mean greenhouse gas emissions would not be reduced, 45 percent said they oppose the proposal, compared with 21 percent who were in favor.

Also Read: U.S. Proposes Price Tag For CO2 Emissions From Cars

The poll also found majorities of Americans would support a tax on emissions of carbon-based fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil, if the money generated were used to fund research and development for renewable energy (59 percent), to restore forests and wetlands (67 percent) or to boost public transportation (54 percent).

For Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the willingness of Americans to pay at least some extra money to tackle climate change is “actually still a pretty strong signal.”

When climate change becomes “a problem in general but also specifically their problem, then people are going to have more ownership of it,” Swain said. (VOA)

Next Story

Earth Day 2019 Mark the Year to “Protect Our Species”

People will march, plant trees, clean up their cities, parks, beaches and waterways, politicians will announce policies, and corporations will pledge to work toward sustainability — all to mark Earth Day 2019

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FILE - An environmental militant shows an orange, painted as a globe, during an event to mark the Earth Overshoot Day on Aug. 1, 2018 in Berlin. It marks the date when we (all of humanity) have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. VOA

On April 22, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries are expected to take part in a global day of political and civic action for the Earth.

People will march, plant trees, clean up their cities, parks, beaches and waterways, politicians will announce policies, and corporations will pledge to work toward sustainability — all to mark Earth Day 2019.

Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day observances worldwide, has designated 2019 to be the year to “Protect Our Species.”

According to EDN, the theme was picked to highlight the fact that human activities are directly linked to what environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert refers to in her book, “The Sixth Extinction,” which describes a mass extinction caused by human activity rather than natural causes.

“The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders and scientists to demand immediate action,” EDN President Kathleen Rogers told VOA.

earth day
FILE – Youths demonstrate with a banner reading “the greed for profit destroys our earth!” during the “Fridays For Future” movement on a global day of student protests aiming to spark world leaders into action on climate change, March 15, 2019 in Berlin. VOA

Earth Day brings, in general, a greater awareness to environmental concerns. The Pew Research Center released a report last week that found climate change was the top concern in half the countries it surveyed last year.

At the top of the list was Greece, where 90 percent of those surveyed called it a major threat and only 4 percent did not view climate change as a threat at all. Their concern was shared by residents of South Korea, France, Spain and Mexico, countries that ranked Nos. 2-5, respectively.

The survey also found that concern over climate change has been steadily rising around the world since 2013, when Pew first asked that question. That year, a median of 56 percent in 23 countries said climate change was a major threat.

In the most recent survey, a median of 67 percent in the same countries hold this view. The concern was also the highest among specific demographics — the educated, women and those between the ages of 18 and 26.

The rising awareness, especially among the young, is good news for EDN, which is looking ahead to next year when it marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It has already launched several initiatives this year in hopes of seeing results by Earth Day 2020. Among them are:

 

earth day
FILE – An Ariel view of thousands of Hindu devotees taking dips at Sangam, the confluence of three sacred rivers the Yamuna, the Ganges and the mythical Saraswati, on Mauni Amavsya or the new moon day. VOA

Earth Challenge 2020

EDN is working with the U.S. State Department and the Woodrow Wilson International Center to engage millions of people around the world to gather more than 1 billion data points in areas including air quality, water quality, biodiversity, pollution and human health.

The “citizen science” volunteers will gather information about their local conditions asking questions such as: What is in my drinking water? How does air quality vary locally? What is the extent of plastics pollution? How are insect populations changing? And is my food supply sustainable?

EDN is working with major tech companies to develop apps where the citizen scientists can upload the data they collect. The apps will also tell users what the information they collect means and offer suggestions on what else they can do to help the environment, Rogers said.

EDN hopes to be able to use the data to leverage public policy decisions and inspire collaborative action worldwide.

The Great Global Cleanup 

The initiative will be launched in cities across the United States on Earth Day this year. It will call on volunteers to help pick up pieces of trash from neighborhoods, beaches, rivers, lakes, trails and parks. Using the lessons learned in the U.S., a global effort on Earth Day next year will try to gather millions of volunteers to remove billions of pieces of trash.

The road is blocked by demonstrators during a climate protest at Marble Arch in London, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. VOA

One of the most ambitious project connected to the global cleanup is one aimed at cleaning the most polluted rivers in the world: the Ganges, in India. Coordinated by Earth Day India and a local NGO, the first phase will begin in the Himalayas, where two glacier-fed streams meet to form India’s most famous and sacred river.

The cleanup will evolve over the next 15 months through 100 towns and cities, including some of the most densely populated ones such as Kolkota, Varanasi and Patna. It will culminate in the Sunderbans Delta, where the river empties into the Bay of Bengal.

“The project on the Ganges will serve as a lightning rod for many more countries and communities to get involved worldwide,” Rogers said.

The Canopy Project

One of EDN’s ongoing projects since 2010 has been to plant trees to fight deforestation. EDN focuses on restoring forests in environmentally critical areas such the Amazon rainforest and the Boreal Forest. But it also plans on reforestation of areas degraded by natural disasters such as flooding or fires. The organization estimates it has planted hundreds of millions of trees worldwide since it started.

Rogers says EDN’s goal for the 50th anniversary is to plant 7.8 billion trees, one for every person alive on Earth that year. Although, she says, the latest population forecast is close to 7.6 billion in 2020 “so that’s a bit of a reprieve.”

 

earth day
Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day observances worldwide, has designated 2019 to be the year to “Protect Our Species.” VOA

She explains that the 7.8 billion number is in addition to the reforestation pledges made by governments, corporations and other environmental groups. For example, she said, the government of Pakistan has already declared its intention to plant 1 billion trees. EDN is now in negotiations with Islamabad to plant 1 billion additional trees to meet the 2020 goal.

ALSO READ: London Climate Change Protesters to Call a Halt if Government will Consider their Demands

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, when 20 million Americans banded together to launch the modern environmental movement, governments around the world have passed laws and implemented policies to preserve the Earth.

EDN says as the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaches, the time is long overdue for a global outpouring of energy, enthusiasm and commitment to create a new environmental paradigm. (VOA)