A recent poll about global warming suggests that Americans are fractured in their beliefs about climate change. The divide chiefly is partisan. Among Democrats, 61% believe that it is having a serious impact right now, and 67% believe that it is caused mostly by human actions. Among Republicans, 26% believe that it is having a serious impact now, and 35% believe that it is caused mostly by human action. Typically, Independents are firmly in the middle: 47% believe that it is having a serious impact right now, and 53 percent believe that it is caused by human action.
One thing that this suggests is that Republicans and Democrats will be competing to persuade Independents of the correctness of their own analysis. Democrats have a basic advantage in this struggle at the moment. While 27% of Democrats and 30% of Independents believe that global warming results from natural patterns in the environment (rather than from human actions), 42% of Republicans believe that it results from natural patterns.
Another thing that it suggests is that American politics will veer between Republicans (57% percent believe it will have a serious impact sometime, 77% believe that something is causing it) and Democrats (84% believe it will have a serious impact sometime, 94% believe that something is causing it). The policies will swing between Republican efforts at palliation/adaptation and Democratic efforts at palliation/adaptation + reducing emissions.
One group that does believe in climate change is the national security establishment. Previously, the Pentagon and CIA saw climate change as a rising, but distant threat. A report issued on 13 October 2014 portrays a more immediate danger.
Water shortages are at the center of Pentagon concerns: shortages of drinking water and drought-related crop failures can stir migrations that will stress governments in vulnerable areas. Those areas mostly are in Northern and Southern Africa and across the Middle East. (See: Climate of Fear III)
Marcus King, who studies the political security implications of climate change has suggested one possible scenario: in recent years drought in Syria has forced many farmers off their land and into cities; their children were then exposed to the appeals of Islamist preachers; when civil war broke out in 2011 many of these rootless and radicalized young men flocked to ISIS; and now ISIS uses the control of water-supply in its territory as a lever of power over the people who live there.
The announcement of the new Pentagon stance on the dangers posed by climate change may be politically-inspired to a degree. People—both reasonable and unreasonable—may suspect that it springs from the efforts of the Obama administration to build pressure for new American commitments in the next international climate agreement to be reached in 2015. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the main points of the report at a conference of American defense ministers being held in Peru. International delegations will meet in Peru in December 2014 to draft the new agreement. Reasonable people may conclude that the danger is real (if hyped a little for the moment), rather than manufactured.
Marjorie Connelly, “Global Warming Concerns Grow,” NYT, 23 September 2014.
Coral Davenport, “Pentagon Signal Security Risks of Climate Change,” NYT, 14 October 2014.