Monday, May 1, 2017

Are Trump's Climate Policies Backfiring?

Data from a recent Gallup poll. Something is moving in the climate wars and science seems to be winning.

Trump's presidency is generating a backfire in beliefs on climate change. A recent Gallup poll went somewhat unnoticed in the great noise of the 100 days date, but it shows a consistent increase in the belief that climate change is real, it is caused by human actions, and it is dangerous. See the figure above, and also this one:

In an earlier post, I had defined the situation with the public opinion as "trench warfare in the climate wars", with neither side being able to gain a significant advantage over the other. But now, with Trump president, the deadlock seems to be over. The Gallup polls never reported such a clear majority of Americans seeing the climate situation in the right terms.

So, what's going on? I can think that Trump's heavy hand in punishing climate science and climate scientists is correctly perceived by the public as ideologically minded and dangerous - and many Americans don't like it. Scientists are seen as the victims of a political persecution and that is causing an increase of trust in science.

The situation may evolve even more in favor of climate science as Donald Trump becomes less and less popular. A significant fraction of Americans are still trusting him, but that trust may soon wear out as Trump's policies fail. They have to fail since they are based on two fundamental errors that have to do with physics, which is impervious to manipulation by politics. The first error is that climate change and ecosystem disruption are not important factors in the economy. The second is that mineral resources are still abundant and that the decline of the production of fossil fuels can be reversed. Because of these fundamental flaws, whatever Trump does will be a disaster, even assuming that he manages to avoid making some truly colossal strategic mistake in the international arena. Trump seriously risks to be remembered as the worst president in American history.

The decline and fall of Donald Trump could generate a long-lasting bad reputation for climate science denial. Unfortunately, there is little to be happy about that; the damage that Trump can manage to do to science and to the ecosystem even in just a few years of presidency will be very hard to reverse - if at all possible. And it is known how the public opinion is volatile and sensible to PR campaigns. A new scandal such as "Climategate" or a fortunate denial meme such as the "pause" could bring things back to the starting line. In any case, the climate change question is so polarized by now that the hardcore Trump supporters will never be convinced of the reality of climate change, not even when the their homes are swamped by the sea. 

But let's not be too pessimistic. At least for now, things are going in the right direction. And it could be worse! (even California's drought seems to be over)


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)