Did Republicans Abandon Environmentalism Over the Decade?


Graph via Gallup

A Gallup poll recently surfaced bearing the unfortunate news that Americans' views of environmentalism had diminished over the decade. As you can see in the graph above, those thinking the green movement did more good than harm fell from 75% to 62% amongst the general population, and those who thought it did more harm than good rose from 21% to 36%. Not a pretty picture. But what's particularly interesting, as Josh Nelson of Enviroknow points out, is that almost the entire shift can be attributed to Republicans' changing views of environmentalists. Here's how those break down: Clearly, the environmental movement has been losing support from Republicans in a very big way. Here's Nelson:

As you can see, nearly 50% of Republicans now think the environmental movement has done more harm than good, up from 28% just 10 years. And on the flipside, while 70% of Republicans thought the environmental movement did more good than harm in 2000, just 49% feel that way now.


Graph via Enviroknow

The major catalyst for this change is more likely than not the fact that addressing climate change has become the primary mission of the modern environmental movement.

It was easier to rally support to your cause when there were literally images circulating of rivers so polluted they caught fire. Or when visible smog choked your cities, or deforestation threatened national wildlife preserves. These are all things that Americans could look at with their own eyeballs, and say, 'I don't like this.' And the movement that was largely effective in protecting the environment from those things was understandably popular.

Enter climate change -- a global phenomenon that is difficult to tangibly detect, requires complex climate models to predict, and seems to pose no threat to any American's immediate well-being. Fighting it meant using less energy, giving up big cars, shutting down coal plants. It's no surprise the idea didn't sit well with conservatives (or anyone, really).

And then conservative leadership has adroitly (but outrageously and incorrectly) framed the notion of climate change as a threat to every American's individual freedom. Cap and trade is an energy tax! Climate change is a hoax designed to let the government elite control your every move! The EPA is going to monitor your very home!

That may seem like hyperbole, but I just got done doing a radio spot with a conservative talk show host who clearly didn't understand the science behind climate change, but bought the GOP party line at face value--he preached on the air that liberals were using climate change as an excuse to obtain power, and that they would for some reason delight in "controlling your lives."

I do think it's a shame that the GOP leadership is using the perceived ambiguities of climate change as an opportunity to sow fear of the rival party in their constituents -- I do think that's what's happening, many of these leaders know better. But it also means that the green movement needs to find ways to address the concerns of conservatives without furthering the divide by simply lambasting politicians who parrot ignorant views on climate.

Any suggestions?

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