Maybe it’s the pope. Or the freakish year in extreme climate records.
It might even be explained by the United Nations climate talks and the bright lights of the presidential election cycle. Whatever the cause, US views on climate change are shifting—fast.
Three-quarters of Americans now accept the scientific consensus on climate change, the highest level in four years of surveys conducted by the University of Texas at Austin.
The biggest shocker is what’s happening inside the GOP. In a remarkable turnabout, 59% of Republicans now say climate change is happening, up from 47% just six months ago.
When public opinion shifts this much in a single survey, a bit of skepticism is justified. Yet these results are precisely in line with a separate survey published this month by the University of Michigan, which found that 56% of Republicans believe there’s solid evidence to support global warming, up from 47% a year ago.
The Michigan poll also found bipartisan agreement with climate science at the highest level since 2008.
The changing views by Republicans could strand some of the leading presidential candidates in an increasingly unpopular position. Many in the party reject mainstream climate science, and not just at the margins.
Republican leaders including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and top presidential contenders Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio all articulate views that would be considered extreme in other countries.
The world is at a critical point in global climate talks, with leaders set to meet next month in Paris to hammer out final details of a plan to reduce the long-term trajectory of carbon pollution.
Some of the biggest impediments to the talks have been removed in recent months. Significant commitments were made by China and India, and the prime ministers of Australia and Canada were replaced by leaders more sensitive to climate change.
Last year in the US Bloomberg interviewed dozens of former senior Republican congressional aides, lobbyists, and staff at nongovernmental organizations.
Many Republicans privately recognised the need to address climate change—in stark contrast to their party’s public stance—but saw little political benefit in speaking out.
Maybe its time to reconsider.
A Norwegian study in August found that the US Republican party stood alone in its denial of fundamental climate science when compared to conservative parties in eight countries. About 41% said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate with such a position.