We’ve been conditioned to see the debate over climate change as a battle over extremes. On one hand, there are those who dismiss the notion of climate change outright. These people believe that it’s junk science or a hoax. On the other side of the argument are the climate activists who tell us the sky is falling and that we must act now to reverse the damage – actions that usually include draconian governmental policy.
Here’s the thing: both sides of this debate can’t rightly claim majority status. In an era of heated rhetoric, many people see climate change as an important but not urgent issue or at least don’t buy into the vitriol and hyperbole from either side.
(Full disclosure: I see differences in the climate, but I’m skeptical that manmade climate change is such a drastic issue or that we can really do that much about it. At the same time, I believe we should pursue free-market innovations that help us take care of the environment.)
It turns out that swing voters occupy a middle ground between the climate hoaxers and the environmental alarmists. Axios has detailed a series of focus groups that reveal how swing voters view the climate change debate. Amy Harder reports about the findings:
The participants were asked the following fill-in-the-blank exercise: Climate change is a ____. Of the more than 2 dozen responses, most (14) chose words that somehow described climate change as a problem, with “concern” being the most common word.
• Just 4 people chose words that made it clear they roundly dismissed climate change as a problem at all (like Trump), with one Obama-Trump voter calling it a joke and another saying it was “scientifically unproven.”
• Nobody described climate change as an emergency.
• Other words mentioned: “big issue,” “addressable issue” and “something scary.”
Harder draws these conclusions:
• Scientists are increasingly sounding the alarm about the mostly negative, and at times catastrophic, impacts that climate change is already having and is likely to have in the decades to come.
• But to people who are worried about paying big health care bills or losing their jobs in a matter of months due to a slowing economy, any problem playing out over decades will inevitably not rise to the top. Or, if it does make it to the top, it doesn’t stay there long.
At the end of the day, while the rhetoric over climate change has heated up to the extreme on both sides of the debate, swing voters – and arguably plenty of others among us – hold a more reasonable view on the issue.
It may behoove politicians of all stripes to remember that not everyone sees climate change either as a hoax or a hair-on-fire emergency. And politicians could benefit from remembering that, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, government isn’t the solution to solving environmental issues.