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The latest Pew Research Center poll, taken in late July-early August 2020, indicates that ten other issues are more important to voters than climate change. (An August CNN poll listed nine other issues as more significant.) Are our fellow citizens crazy? How can ten other issues be more important than what Time magazine called “the biggest crisis facing our planet.” And that was Time’s CEO writing a year ago.

Since then the following have occurred:

  • Deadly fires in Australia--caused in part by global warming, which helped make 2019 that nation’s driest and hottest year on record. Total burnt acres by mid-March 2020 equaled 46 million acres.
  • Deadly 2020 fires in Western U. S. states such as California, Oregon, and Washington, have already burnt more than 5 million acres. A mid-September 2020 National Geographic article, “The science connecting wildfires to climate change,” details the global-warming-wildfires connection.
  • “Exceptionally warm ocean water, due in part to climate change,” has made the “the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season . . . one for the record books. . . . This is the first year since storm record-keeping began in 1851 in which nine named tropical cyclones have formed before August and thirteen before September.”
  • U. S. President Trump has continued his assault on previous measures aimed at slowing the rate of climate change. A recent article, "A second Trump term would mean severe and irreversible changes in the climate," summarizes Trump’s assault and adds, “If Donald Trump is reelected president, the likely result will be irreversible changes to the climate that will degrade the quality of life of every subsequent generation of human beings, with millions of lives harmed or foreshortened. That’s in addition to the hundreds of thousands of lives at present that will be hurt or prematurely end.”

It should not surprise us that it is Trump followers, egged on by him and the likes of the Fox network and Republican representatives in Congress, who are the primary global-warming deniers and minimizers.

It should not surprise us that it is Trump followers, egged on by him and the likes of the Fox network and Republican representatives in Congress, who are the primary global-warming deniers andminimizers. According to the Pew poll cited above, 68 percent of Biden supporters thought climate change was a “very important” issue, but only 11 percent of Trump’s. Thus, the answer to the question “Are those who think climate change is not that important crazy?” the answer is “no,” not in the literal sense. They are just terribly ill informed and fail to realize how much global warming can affect their lives and that of their descendants. (See myWhat Australia’s Fires Should Teach the USA: Be Alarmist! for some examples of likely future climate-change consequences if Trumpian policies continue.) 

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It is especially ironic that so many Trump supporters say they are for family and religious values. A Pew Research poll of June 2020 indicated that 82 percent of white, Protestant evangelical voters and 57 percent of white, Catholic voters intend to vote for Trump. Groups like the evangelical Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council (FRC) have often both praised Trump’s policies and been critical of environmentalists. And yet, it is likely that Trumpian environmental policies, if continued, would have a more adverse effect on children and grandchildren than any other acts of his misguided administration.Commenting on the activism of the million and a half kids worldwide who in March 2019 went on a climate strike and refused to go to school, environmentalist Bill McKibben said, “I think the reason that young people are so involved is because . . . you and I are going to be dead before climate change hits its absolute worst pitch. But if you’re in high school right now, that absolute worst pitch comes right in the prime of your life. And if we’re not able to take hold of this, then those lives will be completely disrupted, and they’ve figured that out.”

When it comes to religion, many religious leaders have spoken out vigorously about the need to combat climate change (see, e.g.,here orhere). Especially important has been Pope Francis’s 2016 Encyclical on climate change. The environmentalist, and Protestant, McKibben wrote about it: “This marks the first time that a person of great authority in our global culture has fully recognized the scale and depth of our crisis, and the consequent necessary rethinking of what it means to be human.”

But most Protestant evangelicals and conservative Catholics fail to be as alarmed as Pope Francis is--the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action are a notable exception. The main reason for the lack of alarm is that the encyclical and similar expressions of climate alarm are“processed through the perceptual filter of political ideology.”

As I have argued previously, in U. S. politics a pragmatic approach is preferable to an ideological one. In his 2015 address to the U. S. Congress, Pope Francis stated that “a good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism.” In an earlier 2013 sermon he warned Christians against making their religion into an ideology: “When a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith. . . . But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. . . . His attitude is: be rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness.” He urged Christians “to remain humble, and so not to become closed.”

walter moss

Given that the U. S. Supreme Court may play a major role in influencing the future of U. S. climate policy and that the court now has five Catholic justices (Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kavanaugh) and might have one more if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed), one can only hope that the courts’ Catholics, as well as its non-Catholics, follow the pope’s advice to reject an ideological approach and proceed “in a spirit of openness and pragmatism.”

Walter G. Moss