Brief #55—Environment

Policy Summary
Research carried out by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that by the end of 2018 approximately 85% of Americans believed more funding should be allocated to research renewable energy sources and that 77% of Americans believed that CO2 emissions should be regulated as a pollutant. The data was revealed within a month of the UN’s publishing of the Emissions Gap Report for 2018, which found that unregulated economic growth and dwindling national efforts to combat emissions will result in the Paris climate pact’s goal of peaking emissions by 2020 not likely being possible until 2030.

Global CO2 emissions rose by an unprecedented 3.4% in 2018, amid environmental deregulation efforts by governments such as those in the US, Russia, and Iran. A new research article in Environmental Research Letters found that the emissions growth is likely to continue in 2019, barring drastic policy change from major CO2 contributors.

Policy Analysis
The United States is the second largest producer of CO2 emissions in the world, and is likely to suffer major damage to its economy and natural resources if proactive measures are not taken to curb the rise in CO2. NASA’s ongoing research on climate change has found that the continental US can expect more droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes, and that temperatures will continue to reach new extremes without meaningful climate legislation and enforcement practices in place. To date, the four hottest years on record were 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Yale’s findings on American perceptions of climate change and environmental policy could well highlight some of the most important issues facing congress and the myriad of 2020 presidential hopefuls. The research found that 70% of Americans polled believed that combating climate change is more important than economic growth, and that half of all Americans believe climate change is already hurting US citizens. In all, the study may well signal a shift in popular perceptions as to what role the government should play in regulating emissions, following the hugely unpopular attempts by the Trump administration to roll back over 78 environmental regulations, most of which concern carbon emissions.

Despite the desire for more meaningful climate legislation, the Yale study also highlighted the alarming disconnect between the American public and the scientific discourse community. It found that only 49% of Americans believe that “Most scientists think global warming is happening.” In reality, 97-98% of the scientific community shares a consensus that climate change is caused by human activity.

Engagement Resources

  • Climate Deregulation Tracker: Columbia Law School tool for tracing legal attempts to roll back or eliminate climate legislation
  • The Climate Mobilization: Volunteer organization seeking to curb the effects of climate change
  • The Consensus Project: Organization dedicated to educating the public about scientific consensus and the scientific community’s stance on climate change
  • Data for Progress: Research organization dedicated to highlighting voter attitudes
  • UN Environment: United Nations program designed to map pathways toward sustainable development

This brief was submitted by USRESIST environmental policy analyst Andrew Thornebrooke. Contact:


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