The San Juan Daily Star
Which elected leaders should do more on climate? Here’s what Americans say.
By Mira Rojanasakul and Catrin Einhorn
It will take some time to understand how Americans view last week’s collapse of climate legislation in Congress, but previous data holds some clues. When asked which elected officials should do more on climate, Americans point to Congress, according to recent surveys by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Last year, researchers found 61% of American adults thought Congress should do more to address global warming, according to modeling of national survey data. Only 52% thought the same of the president.
“People do understand, I think generally, that the president is not a king,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, who led the study and directs the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “It takes Congress to actually pass the laws and dedicate the money.”
When broken down by state, a majority of Americans in all but three believed that Congress should do more.
One of those is West Virginia, home to the Democrat responsible for last week’s failure to reach agreement on climate action. That senator, Joe Manchin, who has personal ties to the fossil fuel industry, cited fears of inflation in describing his decision.
If one Republican senator had joined the rest of the Democrats to pass the climate legislation, it would have altered temperatures on the planet, Leiserowitz said. Every fraction of a degree of warming brings greater risk of new catastrophes, scientists warn, like deadly heat waves, wildfires, extreme drought and increasingly powerful and destructive storms. But by voting with Democrats on climate, Republicans would potentially risk their political futures.
“Politics today is increasingly driven by base politics, so it’s not about catering to the average opinion of the voter in your state,” Leiserowitz said. “You’re going to get crucified by your right flank if you’re a Republican, as you will have crossed the fossil fuel industry, the small government groups, the nativists. That’s the stranglehold of our current system. It’s that people are trapped by their own extremes.”
Americans also look to another group of government leaders to do more on climate change: the state and local ones. The 2021 analysis found that 57% of Americans wanted their governor to do more to address global warming, and 59% wanted the same of local officials. Indeed, since the collapse of climate legislation last week, combined with a recent Supreme Court decision limiting the federal government’s power to regulate planet-warming emissions, state and local levels of government are among the remaining ways for the United States to fight global warming.
A Yale poll this spring, which was not broken down geographically, asked the same questions of registered voters. While the numbers differed slightly, the pattern remained regarding which elected officials they said should do more: 57% said Congress, 51% said President Joe Biden, 53% said their governor, and 55% said local officials.