In Florida, the threat of climate change — principally manifested in the form of rising seas — is kind of obvious. As we’ve reported here previously, there are already parts of the state, especially southeast Florida, that are complaining of beach erosion, more frequent flooding of neighborhoods, and saltwater intrusion into groundwater supplies.
Even many Republicans in southeast Florida, accordingly, don’t seem to have time for denying climate change and think it’s time to just start adapting to the problem.
Is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who just announced his presidential candidacy, one of them? It doesn’t appear so. In the past, he has expressed doubt as to whether “human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” And earlier this year, Rubio voted “nay” on an amendment introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to express the sense of Congress that “climate change is real” and “human activity significantly contributes” to it.
Now, a new analysis by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication suggests that vote puts Rubio pretty far away from the views of his Florida constituents. The Yale research (based on this Nature Climate Change paper) examined the climate views of people in all 50 states, and provides a state by state breakdown of how many think global warming is either mostly human caused or caused by “both human activities and natural changes,” versus how many say it is either “not happening” or “caused mostly by natural changes.” Then, the analysis further compared those views with votes on the Schatz climate change amendment for all 100 U.S. senators.
In Florida, 56 percent of citizens opt for at least partial human causation and only 42 percent opt for “not happening/natural,” according to the Yale analysis. That’s a 14-point difference — with Rubio, based on his vote, presumably on the side of the minority.
“He’s out of step with the majority viewpoint of his constituents,” says Yale’s Anthony Leiserowitz, who runs the project.
The analysis show that Rubio is one of several GOP senators who seem notably distant from their constituents on climate. Even farther out, according to the Yale research, is Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner. Gardner voted nay, but in his state, 58 percent of citizens say global warming is at least partly human caused and only 41 percent say “not happening/natural.”
For Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, another nay vote, constituents similarly split 57 percent human caused versus 41 percent “not happening/natural” on climate change.
Yale finds 10 more Republican senators who voted “nay” but whose states show at least a 10-point preference for human-caused global warming over “not happening/natural”: Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Texas’s John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley.
You can see the full Yale analysis here.
This could suggest a political difficulty for Rubio — and for several other Republican presidential contenders — in the 2016 race. John Podesta, chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, recently Tweeted that “tackling climate change & clean energy” would be at the “top of the agenda” for her next year.
However, we have to remember that Rubio is most immediately running for the GOP nomination, not for the presidency. And to get it, he may be a lot more concerned for the moment about appeasing the conservative GOP political base than about nationwide appeal or even views in his own state.
Moreover, even though Clinton may want to make climate a top campaign issue, there are questions as to how much it will resonate. Only 38 percent of Americans think climate change should be a top priority issue for our political leaders this year, according to polling by Pew.
“Climate change is not at the top of people’s priority list when choosing a candidate,” says Leiserowitz.