Trump's wildfire science denial is working on Republicans
Most people believe scientists over Trump on wildfires—except Republicans, new polling shows.
Happy Thursday y’all. Just a short one today to cap off the week.
As a reminder, if you missed Tuesday’s newsletter or just forgot, we’re starting a 10-week book club and Q&A series next month for All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. It’s an anthology of essays and poems written by the climate movement’s female leaders (this writer included, who knew!), edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson.
We’ll have more details about how we’ll form discussion circles this coming Tuesday. But for now, if you want to be a part of the book club, don’t forget to order the book! It’s already #2 on Amazon’s best-sellers in Environment, and let’s be honest, would probably be #1 if not for the fact that most climate-minded people probably aren’t buying their books off Amazon. (Johnson and Wilkinson recommend using Bookshop).
If you want to be part of the All We Can Save book club but can’t afford a book, please shoot me an email. A number of generous readers have told me they’re willing to pay for another person’s copy; I’m happy to pay for some extra copies; and the book’s publishers are willing to provide some support, too.
The podcast Important Not Important is also giving away signed copies of the book in exchange for donations to the All We Can Save Project, which supports women climate leaders.
The rest of today’s newsletter features exclusive polling from our friends at Data for Progress, “the think tank for the future of progressivism.” I asked them to run some questions to find out whether Trump’s recent comments about West Coast wildfires were resonating with people in the run-up to the presidential election.
Do you have questions about public opinion that you’d like to see polling on? Is there a story we’ve been covering here that you’d like to know people’s reaction to? Email your ideas to email@example.com.
Trump responds to wildfire crisis by denying wildfire science
President Donald Trump takes in the damage from the Woolsey fire alongside California Governor Gavin Newsom, from left, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby, Cal Fire Deputy Chief Nick Schuller and former California Governor Jerry Brown in Malibu on November 17, 2018. (Photo by Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images).
In California alone, wildfires this year “have burned a seasonal record of more than 3.6 million acres, destroyed over 6,500 structures and killed 26,” the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Last week, the president visited California for a briefing on the catastrophe, which is ongoing and poised to get worse.
During that briefing, state officials repeatedly told Trump that there were two reasons for the fire season’s intensity: poor forest management and rapidly worsening climate change. Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, begged the president to accept and address both reasons.
“We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forest, and actually work together with that science,” he said. “If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.”
Trump, however, refused to listed. “It’ll start getting cooler,” he replied. “You just watch.”
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot said.
“Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump hit back.
Trump is wrong. The science does know. “President Trump has repeatedly said ‘forest management’—harvesting trees to reduce fuel for fires—is the key to preventing wildfires,” the Washington Post reports. “But scientists agree no amount of ‘forest management’ can stop disasters in an ever-more-flammable world.”
Scientists, however, are not American electorate. So the question is: do they agree with scientists, or with Trump? We asked Data for Progress. Here are the answers.
A majority believe scientists over Trump—except Republicans
From September 18 to September 19, Data for Progress surveyed 1,104 likely voters across the country about Trump’s wildfire comments. They survey respondents were weighted to be representative of the voting population. (The margin of error of their survey is +/- 2.9 percentage points).
They were given two statements, and asked which one they agreed with more. Number one is the science-based statement. Number two is the Trump-based statement.
Climate change is worsening conditions for wildfires, and while land management plays a role in preventing wildfires, we need to take action to stop climate change because it makes natural disasters and wildfires more intense and destructive.
Poor land management is to blame for these destructive wildfires, and blaming climate change is just an excuse for not taking the proper steps to prevent wildfires.
Overall, 58 percent of likely voters chose the science-based statement on wildfires, and 38 percent of likely voters chose the Trump-based statement. Eleven percent of voters said they did not know which one to choose. That’s not exactly settling, but at least it shows the majority of people accept fact over fiction.
The results become straight-up troubling, though, when the voters are split along party lines. Only 39 percent of Republicans chose the science-based statement about California’s wildfires. A whopping 50 percent chose the Trump-based statement. Eleven percent said they did not know. Independents aren’t that much better. Only 50 percent chose the science-based statement; 30 percent chose the Trump-based statement; and 19 percent said they did not know.
Right now, Democrats are the only voters who reliably accept the science showing what’s necessary to prevent wildfire from getting worse. According to the survey, 80 percent of Democrats chose the science-based statement, while 15 percent chose the Trump-based statement, and only 5 percent did not know. California may be a blue state, but its future relies on voters across the country.
Voters are more worried about the consequences of doing nothing than the consequences of doing too much
Data for Progress also asked voters to choose between another two statements, meant to determine if they were more worried about Republicans like Trump who refuse to take action on climate change, or more worried about Democrats who “exaggerate the threat.”
These were the two statements:
I am more worried about Democratic politicians who exaggerate climate change and want to waste trillions of dollars of government money and destroy jobs.
I am more worried about Republican politicians who refuse to take action to stop climate change and jeopardize the health and safety of those who are exposed to hazardous air and water pollution.
Overall, a plurality of voters—49 percent—said they are more worried about Republican climate denial than Democratic climate exaggeration. But it’s a close call: 39 percent of voters said they’re more worried about Democratic exaggeration.
Obviously, Democrats are much more worried about Republicans on the issue of climate change, and Republicans are more worried about Democrats. But when it comes to Independents, they’re more worried about Republicans. According to the poll, 45 percent of Independents are more worried about climate deniers, and 32 percent are more worried about climate exaggeration.
You can find the entire survey results here.
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Stay hydrated, eat plants (I like bananas obviously but am currently on a carrot kick), break a sweat, and have a great weekend!
Can "good forest management" stop or prevent a crown fire? No. Did well managed grazed pastures and hayfields prevent the 400,000 acre wildfire in Kansas in 2016? No.
Fires are an essential part of forest ecosystems and they always have, so controlled fires are an important tool for managing forests, just as they have for millennia. Is there perhaps too much red tape for effective use of fire as a forest management tool? That is certainly worth looking into, and if there are ways to streamline the process and retain safe air quality, by all means let's remove those barriers WITHOUT undue risk. But it is ridiculous to think that reducing the red tape will reduce the probability of wildfires, especially in light of the increased numbers and severity of drought, heat waves and ideal conditions for wildfires. Should we use controlled burns to decrease the probability of wildfires? Certainly that should be a goal. But no more than decreasing the carbon content of the atmosphere that is drying out our forests to the point of die-off, increasing the infestation of killing insects and the rest.
Well, if I needed a reason to be even more depressed about the upcoming election, here it is.