In 2015, the United States and China – the two biggest emitters of greenhouses gases in the world – were among 195 countries to ratify the Paris climate accord with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Less than two years later, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement—a disturbing yet unsurprising announcement, considering the Right’s bedfellows.
The right-wing in America is the only major political movement in the world to deny climate change, in misstep with practically every nation on Earth. The floor of the U.S. Congress is now “about the only place left where lawmakers openly and avidly deny the science.” With such overwhelming evidence in support of climate change, including mountains of peer-reviewed articles, growing comprehensive research from scientific experts, and acknowledgement from organizations like NASA, the American Medical Association, the American Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, why does the Right continue to nurture the ideology that climate change is not a valid and verified phenomenon?
Climate change hasn’t always been such a polarizing issue. That’s changed. Researchers have found that political orientation is now the anchoring point for people’s attitudes toward global warming. Partisanship—not scientific knowledge, energy interests, or socioeconomic status—has become the strongest determinant on how the public feels about climate change. Interestingly, the deepening gap has swelled in tandem with donations funneled by fossil fuel interests to interests on the Right. In 2000, Republican candidates received 60 percent of donations from fossil fuel interests; Democrats, 40 percent. Today, the differential is substantially larger—91 percent of fossil fuel industry campaign donations are now channeled to Republican candidates. This evolving monetary shift has occurred in parallel with an increase in climate change denial and deflection.
According to a public opinion poll spearheaded by Gallup, 82 percent of Democrats believe in human-caused climate change versus 47 percent of those who identify as Republican. Meanwhile, the body of research has become more robust, complex, and in many cases, irrefutable. Global climate change has already had observable effects, including shrinking glaciers, the melting of ice on rivers and lakes, shifting plant and animal habitats, intense heat waves, and an accelerated rise in sea levels. While there is no wide-sweeping consensus on how catastrophic this will be—or when it will happen—the Right has been hard-pressed to offer legitimate scientific evidence it doesn’t exist. The best they’ve had to offer is Sallie Balinnas, Ph.D., who argued that climate change is largely attributable to energy output of the sun—a concept that has been repeatedly debunked by countless solar and climate scientists.
The numbers are disturbing. Despite the Earth experiencing the warmest years in recorded history and carbon dioxide levels at unprecedented levels, 53 percent of House Republicans and 70 percent of Republican senators denied human-caused global warming when polled in 2015.
Financial contributions aren’t the only factor to consider. For years, the Right has coddled a relationship with evangelicals, many of whom reject the concept of global warming as un-Christian. Although many mainline Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu organizations denounced Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement—a message echoed by several Catholic leaders—many evangelicals believe the concept of global warming denies the purpose of creation.
According to Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Christians are called to be both dominions and stewards of the earth, which is contrary to the “secular-dominated environmental movement,” which sees humans as the problem. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Michican), told voters at a town hall that “there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
A 2013 poll found that only 19 percent of pastors aged 18 to 44 believed global warming was real. This skepticism—bolstered by a general distrust of anything scientific or secular—has been embraced by the Christian Right and spouted to their masses in an era when people trust radio hosts more than scientists. The Right further fuels this skepticism by touting cherry-picked data culled by organizations funded by fossil-fuel interests.
Notably, there are voices in the right-wing—quiet though they are—who have accepted the science and are pushing for change, but as Trump continues to distance the nation from progress, it’s unclear where those voices will ultimately fall.