Study: Climate change skeptics most likely to be harmed by it

A study from the Brookings Institution suggests there is hope for unity on the issue of climate change because the people most likely to be skeptical live where its impact will be felt most.

It will create big losses, for example, in red states in the southwest and southeast.

But it will do something else between 2080 and 2099, the study says. It will yield significant benefits — as measured by county income change — to the Pacific Northwest, parts of the Interior West, the Upper Midwest, and New England.

Some of this will be achieved by reduced mortality and lower energy expenditures.

Many of the states with the most to lose from climate change voted heavily for Donald Trump in 2016, thereby electing a president who has disavowed his own government’s National Climate Assessment—the most careful government evaluation of climate risks ever done—and has systematically moved to dismantle former-President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and regulatory initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.

The alignment is sharp: 9 of the 10 states contending with the highest losses of county income voted for President Trump in 2016, including, in order, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama. Fifteen of the 16 highest-harm states were also red.

By contrast, the bottom portion of the chart shows the inverse. Hillary Clinton—who favored a continuation of President Obama’s emission limits and carbon diplomacy—carried 9 of the 17 states that actually stand to gain from climate change, despite her having promised to take action against it.

Along these lines, it is easy to perceive a kind of cognitive dissonance at work, similar to the paradoxical “government-citizen” disconnect that political scientist Suzanne Mettler has described in the realm of federal social programs: federal action to curb economically harmful climate change does not necessarily resonate in the places that need it most. In the case of climate change, people have a hard time thinking accurately about the link between their actions and the climate in part because politics and ideology color how they process information.

Brookings says the “harm data” may break down the so-called “brown barricade” as skeptics are among the first to feel the effects of change that is already happening.

Now that harm data is available, “a harder charging, grittier and more palpable campaign focused on climate impacts in ‘red’ America could prove a lot more effective,” Brookings says.