News Column

Poll: Global Warming's Divide More Political than Scientific

November 20, 2013
global warming

Global warming, also called climate change, continues to be a divisive issue in America, a new poll suggests.

And the fault lines in the controversy tend to be political, philosophical and sometimes even theological, not scientific.

A new Pew Research Center poll found that 84 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning Americans believe global warming is real, compared to 46 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of tea party members.

On the issue of whether global warming is caused by humans, 64 percent of Democrats said yes, compared to 9 percent of tea party members.

Opposing parties cannot even agree on whether scientists agree on the issue. Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to say that scientists generally agree that human activity causes global warming.

Evangelicals also tend to be global warming skeptics.

In a poll a year ago by LifeWay Research, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, 43 percent of U.S. pastors said they agreed with the statement that global warming is real and man-made. About half of Republican pastors and only 5 percent of Democratic pastors strongly disagreed with the statement.

A basic tenet of the global warming position is that burning carbon-based fuels -- natural gas, oil, coal -- puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a greenhouse effect that pushes global temperatures up.

Global warming skeptics generally don't believe that and attribute ulterior motives to leaders of the green movement.

Chief among those skeptics is U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., author of the book "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future."

Inhofe told a congressional committee this summer that President Barack Obama's desire to regulate carbon emissions is a "core tenet of liberalism and the president's political philosophy."

"He (Obama) believes that government can make better decisions than the people, and regulating carbon dioxide will give him all he needs to make nearly every decision for the American people," Inhofe said.

Some global warming skeptics say environmentalism itself is a religious position, not a scientifically based belief.

Paul H. Rubin, professor of economics at Emory University, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Many observers have made the point that environmentalism is eerily close to a religious belief system, since it includes creation stories and ideas of original sin. But there is another sense in which environmentalism is becoming more and more like a religion: It provides its adherents with an identity."

He said environmentalists have their holy days (Earth Day), their rituals (recycling) and their proselytizing -- "Skeptics are not merely people unconvinced by the evidence: They are treated as evil sinners."

Alexei N. Laushkin, who visited Tulsa this summer to promote what he calls creation care, is vice president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, a Pennsylvania organization promoting environmentalism among evangelicals.

"Our focus is to get Christian churches on the forefront of these discussions," he said this week.

Laushkin, 29, said young evangelicals are more inclined to recognize there is a global warming problem than older evangelicals.

"I think millennials (born in the early 1980s or later) are very pragmatic," he said. "We have strong conservative principles, but we want to live out solutions."

He said Republicans who oppose the global warming movement see it as an expansion of government and a government intrusion on personal and economic freedoms.

"They feel like it will impact their jobs ... their freedom to buy whatever kind of car they want," he said.

He said he thinks conservatives are concerned that government is over-reaching in health care and other areas, and they don't want to expand that to environmental issues.

Bob Gaddis, a Tulsa geologist who has been watching the global warming discussion for 35 years, believes there is no correlation between man's use of hydrocarbons and global warming, and no consensus among scientists about it.

He said he is one of 31,000 Earth scientists who signed a petition about two years ago saying global warming is not man-made.

He said weather change is cyclical, and a certain amount of warming benefits mankind.

"It's all about distribution of wealth," he said. "They want to hammer the U.S. and other major countries and spread the wealth to poorer nations."

John Korstad, biology professor at Oral Roberts University, said the Pew polling numbers do not surprise him because in his experience global warming skeptics are more likely to be Republicans and evangelicals than Democrats.

He said he believes global warming is a reality and is man-caused because he sees good science in the about 80 percent of experts who hold that position.

"Others -- also good scientists -- disagree, but they are fewer in number," he said. "And a lot of people are just spouting off, speaking outside of their areas of expertise.

"There's a lot of uncertainty about what's happening," he said.

Korstad said he thought some conservatives oppose the green movement because of the extremism of some supporters.

"Al Gore's movie, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' had a lot of good data but a lot of sensationalism," he said.

And conservatives have tended to see the environmental movement as a liberal, left-wing cause.

He said conservatives fear that the green movement will lead to expanded government regulation and economic downturn.

But Korstad believes an argument can be made for government regulation of the environment, citing Environmental Protection Agency car emission standards that cleaned up air pollution in Los Angeles, and a ban on phosphorus in detergent that helped clean up the Great Lakes.

"I'm not for big government, but I'm for some government.

"What's needed is good, credible science -- mathematical models that are unbiased," Korstad said.

"It's complex, but we need to stop being selective about who we listen to and look at what is really happening and what is our role in the world," he said.

Korstad recommended a practical approach to the problem that neither shuts down the economies of the world nor ignores the plight of people around the world who could be hurt by rising ocean levels and other environmental changes.

"We can't be isolationists. What we do or don't do here indirectly affects other people around the world," he said.

"As Christians, we should care enough about God's lordship to care about his creation."

Do scientists generally agree that human activity causes warming?

Total Rep. Dem. Ind.

Yes 54% 41% 71% 52%

No 37% 48% 23% 39%

D/K 8% 11% 6% 9%

Among those saying

Earth is warming Mainly due to Human Natural Mainly due to activity patterns Not warming

Yes 65% 78% 38% 31%

No 27% 17% 53% 61%

D/K 8% 5% 9% 8%

Bill Sherman 918-581-8398


(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.). Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Original headline: Global warming poll finds broad divide more political than scientific

Source: (c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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