There is no reason that Republicans have to deny climate science and reality; in fact, they’re the only major political party in the world that does, and most of their voters support climate action.
The world is shocked that America elected Donald Trump as its 45th president. Exit polls show that the country is sharply divided on Trump along the same lines as its sharp divisions on climate change.
Political ideology was the single strongest determining factor in the election. 90% of Republicans voted for Trump, while 89% of Democrats voted for Clinton. Ideology is also the primary factor associated with acceptance or denial of human-caused global warming, as climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained eloquently in this video:
Race was the second-clearest determining factor in the presidential election. Trump won white voters by 21 percentage points; Clinton won minorities by 53 points. Minorities are also far more likely to accept and be concerned about climate change than white Americans. As Samantha Bee explained, white Americans bear responsibility for electing Donald Trump:
The urban/rural divide was the third-strongest determining factor in the presidential election. Clinton won urban voters by 24 points; Trump won rural voters by 28 points. In many cases, cities are leading the way in taking action to curb global warming.
Fourth, voters younger than 45 went for Clinton by a 12-point margin, while older voters preferred Trump by 11 points. Voters under the age of 30 voted for Clinton by an 18-point margin. Similarly, young Americans are far more likely to be concerned about climate change than older Americans.
Finally, there is a gender gap, though it’s smaller than many expected. Despite accusations from 15 women that Trump groped, kissed, or assaulted them, and a recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, he only lost the female vote by 12 points – the same margin by which he won the male vote, and approximately the same margin by which Obama beat Romney and McCain among women. White women even favored Trump by 10 points, and white women without a college degree by an astonishing 28 points.
Basically, Trump’s misogyny didn’t dissuade women from voting for him. They normally favor Democratic presidential candidates by a margin of about 20 points more than men. That’s also the margin by which American women are more concerned about climate change than men.
How did America elect Barack Obama and then Donald Trump?
It’s important to remember that as with Al Gore in 2000, more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than her victorious opponent. Al Gore received about a half million more votes than George W. Bush. Hillary Clinton will likely receive over a million more votes than Donald Trump. Bush and Trump were elected because of the antiquated electoral college system.
Nevertheless, the popular vote was closer in 2016 than in 2012 or 2008. Republican voters were willing to forgive Trump’s many disqualifying flaws. They didn’t care about his constant lies. Eighty-one per cent of evangelicals voted for Trump despite his long history of immoral behavior. But many voters weren’t willing to overlook the media-generated, Russian hacker-assisted, FBI director-amplified, faux scandal of Clinton’s emails.
And much of Clinton’s support was concentrated in areas like my home state of California, where she won by over 28 points, while enough rural white Trump voters were distributed across swing states to give him narrow victories and winner-take-all electoral college votes. Trump won four states with a total of 75 electoral college votes (Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan) by margins of 1.3 points or less.
It’s the same reason why Republicans control a large majority in the House of Representatives despite receiving more than a million fewer total votes than their Democratic opponents: rural, white, Republican voters are more widely geographically distributed than urban Democratic voters. America has become a minority-ruled country, that minority being rural white Republicans.
Ultimately, explaining the election result is simple – Republicans voted for Trump and Democrats voted for Clinton. Clinton received more votes, but Trump won most of the states in which the vote was close. Trump won in areas with less educated, older, whiter populations with fewer immigrants. In these isolated, insulated regions, people fear their way of life is vanishing, and they’re largely right.
The US isn’t a coal burning, manufacturing country anymore. Trump promised to change that, but he can’t, and his policies will hurt his voters. America is changing and it’s not the fault of Democrats or immigrants, but Trump made them scapegoats and made empty promises to turn back the clock. Democrats need to find a way to connect with and help these groups who feel the government isn’t on their side.
What does this mean for the Earth’s climate?
As John Abraham wrote last week, now that the Republican Party controls the US government, they own climate change.
For years, America was the country most to blame for obstructing international efforts to curb climate change. Our senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. President George W Bush refused to take any action to cut US carbon pollution. Senate Republicans blocked the cap and trade legislation passed by the House of Representatives in 2009.
Finally, over the past four years, the US has taken action and shown leadership in tackling climate change. As a result, humans had a slim chance of keeping global warming below the dangerous 2C limit.
Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to reverse that progress. The energy page of Trump’s official presidential transition website focuses on extracting and burning lots and lots of fossil fuels and scrapping Obama’s climate plans:
We will end the war on coal, and rescind the coal mining lease moratorium, the excessive Interior Department stream rule, and conduct a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama Administration. We will … scrap the $5 trillion dollar Obama-Clinton Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan
Trump has already appointed a climate denier who wants to dismantle the Clean Power Plan to lead the EPA’s transition. If the Republican party continues on this path, the costs and suffering from intensified heat waves, floods, droughts, and hurricanes, sea levels engulfing coastal cities, etc – it will be on the GOP.
What do we do now?
In the meantime, we must continue trying to break through Republican politicians’ science denial. Many Republican policymakers are rumored to accept human-caused global warming in private; we have to change the political climate so that this isn’t a disqualifying position for a party leader to take in public.
There is no reason that Republicans have to deny climate science and reality; in fact, they’re the only major political party in the world that does, and most of their voters support climate action. We can donate to and volunteer to help bipartisan climate groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which is working with policymakers from both parties to build the political will to solve the climate problem. These groups are now more important than ever.
We probably won’t be able to limit global warming to 2C, but 2.5C is less damaging than 3C, and 3C less than 3.5 or 4C. As the renowned climate scientist Lonnie Thompson once said, climate change will be a combination of mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. It’s never too late to take action to limit the amount of suffering our children and grandchildren will face due to climate change.
American cities and states will have to keep leading the way in cutting carbon pollution. Americans will have to keep fighting to rid the GOP of the intellectual rot that currently plagues the party. And while Americans fight to right the ship, the rest of the world will have to pick up the slack and fight even harder against climate change. As Hillary Clinton said in her gracious concession speech:
And let’s get to work on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s suggestion:
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