It's Earth Day 2015, and just about everyone in the U.S. agrees that climate change is going to affect us in our lifetimes.
Everyone, that is, except for conservative Republicans.
A new Gallup poll breaks down Americans' interpretations of global warming by political group and ideology, and finds a clear outlier in those rightmost thinkers, only 37 percent of which think they're going to live to see the effects of climate change. (In contrast, 64 percent of Republicans who identify as moderate or liberal believe climate change is either already happening or will begin to soon -- it's the conservatives, and not the entire party, that's driving the fierce disagreements we're currently seeing.)
What they're missing, of course, is that the effects of climate are already being seen today. The world just lived through its hottest year on record, a new high in a long-term trend -- if you were born after 1976, your entire lifetime has consisted only of warmer-than-average years. Seventy percent of conservative Republicans, though, told Gallup that warming over the past century is most likely due to natural change in the environment.
But California's drought, the West's record-low snowpack, flooding in Miami, and heavy downpours and so on all have a connection: climate change, as meteorologist and research analyst Forbes Thompkins explained to Salon, functions like a baseball player on steroids, amplifying the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather events. Sure, that's not quite something we can point to and say, "Hey look, climate change!" But that doesn't make it less real.
We know with less certainty what the effects of climate change will look like in the future, but the conservative predictions of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that climate change can have that steroid effect on everything from global conflicts, food prices and water availability within many of our lifetimes. There's plenty of research to suggest that the world, by 2050, may be in many ways unrecognizable from the one we live in now. And warming, if emissions keep rising, will continue -- in a worst-case scenario, a child born today could see temperatures rise as high as 6.3 degrees Celsius in her lifetime, well beyond the agreed-upon "safe limit" of 2 degrees.
Older conservatives will admittedly see less warming in their own lifetimes; the argument, you'd think, is that they need to recognize how actions we do or do not take now will come to bear on future generations. But only 19 percent of the conservative Republicans who responded to the Gallup poll said they think climate change will affect those future generations. The majority, 40 percent, are adamant that it will never happen, and it's to them that Congressional Republicans and the candidates vying for the GOP presidential nomination are pandering. But only 16 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans feel the same -- nearly half, moreover, acknowledge that human activity is affecting the climate.