Climate Consensus

Climate change has become an intensely polarizing issue. Generally, Democrats believe it is real and human caused while Republicans either believe is not real, or is not human caused. The different ways climate change is perceived by the public, congress, and scientists are truly striking.

The Public:

Many polls have been conducted that identify how the public views climate change.

According to a poll done by PEW Research found that approximately 52% of American adults do not believe that climate change is mainly caused by human activity.

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Congress:

Congress’ views on climate change almost directly align with their party affiliation. Many different sources have compiled data on the number of climate deniers in congress. However, the findings differ because it is often difficult to identify exactly who is a climate denier. Congressmen are often ambiguous about their exact views on the matter, and their positions may fluctuate with time. However, ThinkProgress (see commentary on the choice at the bottom) identified about 182 climate deniers in the 114th congress (one of the lowest numbers from a number of different data sets). The following chart shows the breakdown by political party.

Climate Deniers in Congress

Scientists:

Discussing what scientists think of climate change is undoubtedly the most controversial compared with the public and congress. Many think that the scientific position on climate change is not yet settled. Others may be confused by all of the different sound bites being thrown around. However, upon closer inspection, a clearer image comes into focus.

Many climate deniers claim that there is no scientific consensus on climate change, and that many scientists actually believe that it is either not real, or not human caused. One of their main sources of evidence is the Petition Project, a petition “organized by a group of physicists and physical chemists who conduct research at several American scientific institutions”. In essence, it states that human activity does not contribute to climate change and that increased carbon dioxide levels may even be good for the planet. The project is signed by 31,387 scientists, including 9,029 with PhD’s.

While this may seem like convincing evidence on the surface, a closer look paints a different story. According to the Huffington Post, only 0.1% of scientists who signed the Petition Project are climatologists, or have a background in the field.

However, The Consensus Project, which looked at 12,464 scientific papers on climate change found that approximately 97.2% agreed that climate change is in fact real, and human caused.

So, why the discrepancy between congress and scientists? Donations and campaign contributions may be part of the answer.

ContributionsThis chart uses data from OpenSecrets.org (see description at bottom of the page). This chart shows a strikingly similar trend between the number of contributions received from the oil and gas industry during the 2016 campaign, and the number of climate deniers. Republicans receive more money, and are more likely to be climate deniers than Democrats who receive less money.

 

The Sanders Amendment No. 777: An example of how senators voted on a climate change issue

  • “Statement of Purpose: To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to recognize that climate change is real and caused by human activity and that Congress needs to take action to cut carbon pollution.”

This amendment, proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders was an example of a very straightforward climate change vote where senators had to essentially choose whether or not they believed in anthropogenic climate change. Here is the breakdown of how the senators voted based on party:Sanders Vote Among Republicans.png

Sanders Amendment Democrats 1.png

The breakdown shows how the vote outcomes by each party are essentially flipped with almost all Republicans voting Nay and almost all Democrats voting yea.

A look at two senators who broke from party lines:

  1. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Manchin voted with Republicans on this issue signifying a certain amount of skepticism of anthropogenic climate change. During the 2016 campaign Manchin received $182,800 total contributions from the oil and gas industry (donations from individuals and PACs).

2. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)

Collins voted with democrats on this issue signifying she believes climate change is real, anthropogenic, and a very big issue. During the 2016 campaign cycle, she received only $85,466 from the oil and gas industry.

These two senators are examples of how differences in the amount of financial contributions can play a factor in how senators vote even if that means they break from party lines.

This final chart shows the relationship between the amount of financial contributions from the oil and gas industry, and how senators in the 114th congress voted on 6 climate change related issues (see descriptions of each vote at the bottom of the page).

Final.png

 

This data shows two main clusters of data. Democrats, plotted in blue, are clumped around lower x-values and less contributions from the oil and gas industry. Most Democrats also have 0 votes against the climate consensus position. Republicans are generally clumped around larger x-values with more contributions from the oil and gas industry. This is coupled with all 6 votes against the climate consensus position. Other various Democratic and Republican senators fall somewhere in the middle. Overall, there is a clear trend showing that as contributions increase, the number of times senators will vote against the climate consensus increases.

Conclusion: 

Overall, this page was designed to examine the differing opinions on climate change between the three different groups (the public, congress, and scientists), identify the scientific consensus on climate change, and then address why there are discrepancies. In congress, most of the evidence provided seems to point to a link between contributions from the oil and gas industry, and the senators’ beliefs and voting record on the issue. The main idea I take away from this analysis is that it is always important to follow the money. On the surface, an issue may seem fully rooted in fact, but upon digging a bit deeper, money may play a larger role than initially thought.

Descriptions of Each Vote/Issue:

  1. Sanders Amendment No. 777:

To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to recognize that climate change is real and caused by human activity and that Congress needs to take action to cut carbon pollution”.

2. Joint Resolution (S.J. Res. 24)

The resolution nullifies an EPA rule requiring fossil fuel-fired electric utility generating units to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

congress.gov

3. Markey Amendment No. 2176

This amendment would create a climate change education program.

4. Bennet Amendment No. 1014

This amendment would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to aid in the effects and national security threats of anthropogenic climate change.

5. Schatz Amendment No. 58

This amendment would state that climate change is real, human caused, and leads to a number of harmful effects.

congress.gov

6. Coons Amendment No. 115

This amendment would state that climate change is posing a significant threat to our safety and infrastructure.

congress.gov

Comments on Data Sources:

All data regarding campaign contributions was found at OpenSecrets.org. This site is maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization which tracks campaign contributions from PACs, individuals, lobbyists, and other groups.

The data set describing the breakdown of climate deniers in congress was compiled by Think Progress, a site generally considered to be fairly liberal. However, I selected it because its number of listed climate deniers was actually more conservative than a number of other sources (Motherboard.Vice.com).

 

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