This article was originally published in June 2018.
Our planet is currently under threat from climate change. Ice sheets are melting, sea levels are rising, and species are going extinct across the globe. It’s definitely happening, it’s definitely caused by us, and 97 percent of scientists agree on this. Unfortunately, certain politicians and members of the public don’t agree, and a new study shows that these people are more likely to hold racist beliefs too.
The study, published in Environmental Politics, found that climate change deniers are more likely to be old, Republican, white, and racist.
The study’s author, Salil Benegal, looked at data from Pew Research Center and the American National Election Studies (ANES). The data included interviews with voters across America both before and after presidential elections. Over the past 60 years, ANES has looked at the “racial resentment” against African Americans felt by its interviewees by asking them to rate how well they agree with certain statements, such as the following.
Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.
It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough. If Blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.
Benegal found that concern about climate change dropped during the Obama administration. Despite being criticised by many for not doing enough to fight climate change, Obama created policies like the Clean Power Plan in order to help tackle it. He also signed the Paris Climate Accord, something that Trump has now undone, leaving America as the only country on the planet to reject it.
Benegal proposes in his paper that the fact that Obama was the first African American president and keen to tackle climate change led to racists changing their stance on the matter as they didn’t want to agree with him. He refers to this as “racial spillover”. Similar “spillover” correlations have been found before in relation to things like health care and immigration.
“I’m not trying to make a claim in the study that race is the single most important or necessarily a massive component of all environmental attitudes,” Benegal told Sierra magazine. “But it’s a significant thing that we should be looking out for.”
He found that over the course of Obama’s time in office, white people became 18 percent less likely to view climate change as a big issue. What’s more, white Republicans with low racial resentment had a 57 percent chance of disagreeing with the fact that climate change is caused by humans, while those with high resentment had an 84 percent chance.
“[The] results show… that high levels of racial resentment are strongly correlated with reduced agreement with the scientific consensus on climate change,” Benegal wrote in his paper.
“This helps further explain why the public remains so polarized on climate change, given the extent to which racial grievances and identities have become entangled with elite communication about climate change and its related policies today.”