The latest Gallup poll shows the problem with President Trump’s hysterical opposition to green energy proposals: “By the widest margin since 2000, more Americans believe environmental protection should take precedence over economic growth when the two goals conflict. Sixty-five percent now choose the environment, up eight percentage points from a year ago, while 30% choose the economy.” Uh-oh.
Even if Americans believed (and there’s every reason not to, as I discuss below) Trump was right that we’d have to sacrifice some prosperity to save the planet, voters are prepared to say, “Fine with us!” As with so much else, Republicans (increasingly white, old and non-college-educated) don’t think like the rest of America:
There is some variation on this question by age. Adults aged 18 to 34 are more likely than those 35 and older to give precedence to environmental protection over economic growth. However, the sharpest differences are by party. Eight in 10 Democrats (82%) and 71% of independents prioritize environmental protection, versus 35% of Republicans. On the flip side, the majority of Republicans (60%) say economic growth should be considered first, versus 24% of independents and 13% of Democrats.
Now, the elevated support for green legislation has generally tracked reduced unemployment. It’s not surprising that when people are unemployed and suffering, the last think they want to do is “sacrifice” (again, the premise than green legislation costs jobs is wrong) economically. The good economy and historically low unemployment, however, work against Trump’s scare-mongering about economic growth.
“With the U.S. unemployment rate holding at or below 4% for much of the past year, Americans are less likely to prioritize economic growth over environmental protection,” Gallup finds. “[I]t appears that now is a good time to promote aggressive climate legislation such as the Green New Deal being discussed in Congress, as most Americans are currently willing to accept some economic costs.”
None of this suggests that Democrats should buy into the false notion that we have to go back to living in caves (or give up cars or planes) if we want to save the planet. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who’s made climate change his top issue in his 2020 presidential campaign, blows that argument to smithereens.
His state has excelled in economic growth and green energy legislation. “As he did in Washington State, Inslee would propose a mix of government investments and incentives to spur other investment, restrictions on power plants and emissions, and programs to promote R&D and job growth," Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote last month. An endless number of jobs can be created in the climate arena, Inslee says. It’s the way to make a real dent in income inequality and have the Democratic Party bring tangible solutions to communities in rural America that have been left behind.”
Trump’s argument looks even sillier when one sees the costs of inaction on climate change. Whether it’s horrific flooding in the Midwest or hurricanes in Florida and Texas or infernos in California, the cost in life and property from extreme weather is soaring. The notion that we are better off doing nothing and waiting for the next disaster than we are investing in new technologies and expanding good-paying green energy jobs will strike most Americans as inane -- as inane as claiming wind energy causes cancer.
Republicans’ scientifically ignorant and economically vapid arguments are likely to engender disdain from a majority of voters. What’s more, as green energy jobs expand, lawmakers sneering at green legislation are acting contrary to their constituents’ economic interests. The quicker the GOP gives up its climate change denial, the fewer political losses it will suffer.