John Krosnick is a Stanford social psychologist whose work has explored public opinion about energy and climate change. A series of surveys he conducted for the Woods Institute for the Environment last year yielded some surprising results: Most notably, that publicly advocating for solutions to climate change actually improves political candidates chances of winning an election. I recently sat down with Krosnick, and he discussed his work in greater detail. Watch:Krosnick was one of the myriad speakers at this year's Climate, Mind, and Behavior conference, an annual gathering of scientists, psychologists, behavioral economists, authors, and policy experts in Garrison, New York. His talk touched on the findings of his recent work, and pondered the divide between public opinion regarding global warming—he pointed out that strong majorities in every single state believe that it's real—and the opinion held by our political leaders.
Most conservative politicians won't publicly discuss climate change much, unless its to suggest that it's a hoax or "unsettled" science. But that's partly because they're severely misreading their constituent's views on climate change, which are in reality much more pro-action than they believe. And this, Krosnick says, is largely because they might only hear from the most vocal, opinionated voters, such as those who attend town hall meetings or angrily call them up—and if we're talking about a red state or county, chances are they're not calling for a carbon tax. Opinions spouted on Fox News and the various anti-climate incentives provided by the fossil fuel industry help bridge the rest of the gap.
This simple disconnect is something that should be kept in mind when considering the politics of climate change—and a sign that a few simple phone calls and statements from town hall attendees could help shift the debate back towards reality.