Since the election of Donald Trump as president, climate change has rushed to the front of the news because of Trump's pledges to wipe away major US attempts to address it. Of particular concern to scientists and environmentalists around the world is Trump's vow to "cancel" US participation in the Paris climate agreement, negotiated by nearly 200 countries late last year and the foundation for a global push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, country by country.
It turns out that the majority of Americans are at odds with the Republican president-elect over the Paris accord. A new survey released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Monday suggests that if Trump were to actually keep his word and withdraw from the agreement, that move might not be very popular here in the United States. The survey of 2,061 Americans, conducted in June, finds that 71 per cent support the Paris deal, including 57 perc ent of Republicans. It's a notable finding on a topic so new that not all Americans may have even heard of it.
The finding, notes the Chicago Council, comports with Americans' longstanding general support for international climate treaties, but they also somewhat mask deep disagreement about the reality and severity of climate change that persists between Democrats and Republicans.
Those differences reappeared when respondents were asked whether they agreed that climate change is "a serious and pressing problem" that should be addressed even if there are "significant costs". 62 per cent of Democrats agreed with that statement, while only 19 per cent of Republicans agreed.
Dina Smeltz, an opinion researcher and senior fellow with the Chicago Council who is lead author of the report on the survey results, said that the way to reconcile the two findings involves the different priority that Democrats and Republicans place on the climate issue.
"In terms of priorities, Democrats see it as a much higher priority for foreign policy, but that doesn't mean that Republicans. . . don't think some action should be taken," Smeltz said. "An increasing percentage of Republicans now say that some gradual action should be taken" to address climate change concerns.
One issue not explicitly addressed by the survey is whether the world is already under such a threat from climate change that we can't afford to take "gradual" steps toward reducing the risks. Scientists generally consider the problem to be very urgent and say that steep global emissions cuts are required to address it.
Smeltz said the study showed that Americans overall tend to favor treaties and international agreements, which might partly explain the finding. "When we ask about agreements in general, especially in our wording, Americans do seem to support a lot of international agreements which are collective agreements," she said, "which means that Americans alone do not have to sign on to these agreements."
Considering the study results, could trying to exit the Paris deal damage the president-elect politically? It would undoubtedly cause a national and an international uproar, but would Trump's base think worse of him?
"Some of the support could be soft, so it's hard to make a broad conclusion with that," Smeltz said. "But basically the American public does support making gains on this, and has been growing in their support for mitigating climate change."
But Smeltz does not think views on this subject have changed much since the election; rather, she detects a broadly growing US acceptance of climate action. "Among all partisans, there has been an increase in those who want to take some kind of a step to mitigate climate change," she said.
That may be good news for the activists, scientists and environmentalists who fear a much bigger battle ahead in opposing the new president on this issue.