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Racial resentment may be fueling climate denial in US

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NexusMedia

What began as a way of trolling Prius drivers became a signature protest against America’s first black president — rolling coal.

Drivers spend hundreds or thousands of dollars retrofitting their trucks so they can blanket cyclists, motorists and pedestrians with thick, black clouds of exhaust.

“I run into a lot of people that really don’t like Obama at all,” one seller of coal-rolling equipment told Slate. “If he’s into the environment, if he’s into this or that, we’re not. I hear a lot of that.”

In some instances, the practice has taken on an explicitly racial tone, as drivers publish videos of themselves rolling coalon Black Lives Matters protestors.

Why would anyone spend so much money to do something so hostile and self-defeating? New research offers some insight.

After Barack Obama took office, white Americans were less likely to see climate change as a serious problem, according to a recent paper published in the journal Environmental Politics.

The study further finds evidence of a link between racial resentment and climate change denial. This is not to suggest that all climate deniers are racists, merely that racial resentment may, in part, be driving climate denial.

“There has been increasing polarization on this issue — and this is one thing my own research has been examining for a while — trying to figure out what are some of the root causes of this polarization,” said study author Salil Benegal, a political scientist at DePauw University.

Researchers have thoroughly investigated the link between ideology and attitudes toward climate change, finding that conservatives are significantly more likely to reject climate science, not because they misapprehend the facts, but because they are taking their cues from conservative elites, many of whom have close ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Thus, while scientists have grown more certain about the causes and perils of climate change, attitudes toward the carbon crisis have become more and more polarized.

While Democrats have grown more concerned about climate change, among Republicans, climate denial has become increasingly calcified.

Source: Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development

Separately, researchers have studied how racial resentment among white Americans has worsened economic anxiety and driven opposition to welfareMedicaid and other government initiatives. (As it happens, white Americans are the largest beneficiaries of these programs.)

Writing in the Washington Post, political scientists Adam Enders and Jamil Scott explained that, while racial resentment has remained stable over time, “More and more, white Americans use their racial attitudes to help them decide their positions on political questions such as whom to vote for or what stance to take on important issues including welfare and health care.”

They added, “Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency further strengthened the relationship between racial resentment and political attitudes.”

Benegal’s study links these two fields of research by asking if, and to what extent, racial resentment has fueled climate change denial.

He began by examining the views of black and white Americans on climate change before and during Obama’s presidency, comparing Pew surveys taken between 2006 and 2008 with surveys taken between 2009 and 2014.

Obama, who named climate change a top priority on the campaign trail, tried and failed to pass cap and trade in 2009.

Before the 2008 election, Benegal said, there was no significant difference between white and black Americans on climate change, when controlling for partisanship, ideology, education, church attendance and employment.

In the years after Obama took office, the views of black Americans stayed roughly the same. White Americans, however, were 18 percent less likely to see climate change as a very serious problem.

Source: Environmental Politics

For the second part of his study, Benegal investigated the relationship between racial resentment and climate denial using data from the 2012 and 2016 American National Election Studies.

First, he created an index of racial resentment based on how much people agreed or disagreed with statements like,

“It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough, if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites,” and,

“Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.”

Then, he looked at how racial prejudice interacted with views about climate change.

“I found that the racial resentment scale was incredibly significant in predicting whether or not people agreed with the scientific consensus,” Benegal said.

Controlling for age, ideology and education, he found that white Republicans who scored high on racial resentment were significantly more likely than those who scored low to say that climate change isn’t happening or that humans aren’t the cause.

Source: Environmental Politics

“It is not so much that elites would highlight Obama’s race specifically and then bring up climate or other health policies,” Benegal said.

“It’s more that when certain voters associated Obama with an issue, they inherently saw Obama through this racial lens and immediately viewed almost anything he was associated with as some kind of racial issue.”

And Obama did a lot on climate change — setting ambitious fuel standards, creating the Clean Power Plan, joining the Paris Agreement.

None of this is to say that racial resentment is the sole driver of climate denial.

Rather, this study shows that racial resentment could be one of several factors shaping views about climate change.

Benegal suggested future research could investigate how political elites talk about climate change — how they may be tapping into racial resentment to stoke climate denial, just as they have capitalized on resentment against black and, increasingly, Hispanic Americans to court white voters.

The racial and ethnic composition of the United States, 1970–2050, based on data from the Statistical Abstract of the United States and the U.S. Census Bureau. The United States is projected to grow more diverse in the years ahead. Source: Center for American Progress

While Benegal’s research makes an important contribution to understanding attitudes toward climate change, political scientists Adam Enders and Jamil Scott, who were not affiliated with the study, noted its limitations.

Enders, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, said that it is difficult to separate racial resentment from partisanship as climate change is highly politicized, and people are more likely to hear about the issue from politicians than from scientists.

Scott, a Phd candidate at Michigan State University, noted how polarized the issue has become. “Climate change is an issue that is ‘owned’ by the Democratic Party.

Thus, Democrat identifiers tend to buy into the message of climate change and Republican identifiers do not,” she said, explaining that:

“a stronger test of the racialization hypothesis would tease out the difference between negative attitudes toward climate change as a partisan concern, which by extension includes Obama as the head of the party, versus negative attitudes toward climate change as a racial concern because of its association with Obama.

“There is subtle, but important difference there.”

Benegal said he intends this study as first step in understanding this relationship, explaining that “we need to examine other elements of partisanship or factors that may amplify or intensify partisan values or behaviors” — including racial resentment.

He added, “I’m hoping this paper acts as a step in that direction to start exploring some of those interactions, specifically those between race and party ID.”

Benegal worries that, as some have suggested, the political parties are sorting according to feelings of about race.

“Maybe we need to look at race or racial resentment much more critically,” he said.

“The concern for me is that if climate change as an issue has become more racialized… it may make it harder to actually persuade individuals to shift their views.”

 Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him @deaton_jeremy.

Source: NexusMedia. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • Steve Applin

    I humbly suggest that pig ignorance is the link between racial resentment and denial of climate science.

    • Peter Campbell

      Perhaps it is too polite to attribute it to ignorance. I know there are plenty of exceptions but perhaps not giving a stuff about future generations, other races, unemployed, disabled and anyone else not like us, and voting right wing, and feeling resentful that somebody else might be getting something I am not and dismissive of scientific expertise if inconvenient and conservative fear of change, self-righteous religiosity and so on are all symptoms of people who are just not very nice.

  • MaxG

    The US is a menace to the modern world; a continuous war mongerer and imperialist. If the people of Germany were complicit to Hitler, then US citizens are complicit in their government’s actions.

    • hydrophilia

      Yep, I went into mourning for my country for about a year after the election. RIP American Democracy and America as a force for good. Now, onward to a brave new world.

      • Joe

        Planet Mars is looking more and more attractive every day.

    • Coley

      It took over 50 years and the cost of fighting two world wars and American ‘intransigence’ in the Suez crisis to finish off the British empire.
      Trump is managing to do the same job of destroying the ‘American century’ within one term and a few thousand tweets.
      Time to start learning how to speak Chinese-;)

  • Jens Stubbe

    Great but very disturbing article about subjects that I in the back of my mind suspected could be co-related.

  • Ken Cova

    Another one of these studies that is “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”

    You can’t get at this by asking these folks questions. What you need to do to understand them is very straightforward: you need to read what they read on Facebook and websites; listen to what they listen to on talk radio; and watch the Fox News (er, Fox “News”) channel on TV.

    Incidentially I believe you folks down under will recognize our very serious problem at Fox, because it’s your very own evil media Tycoon who came up here and created the damn thing. ; -)

    So you take these three influences: Deceitful TV News, deceitful Facebook feed, and deceitful talk radio shows. And then you add one more caveat. These folks *only* trust these sources of information, they don’t hear and won’t here any genuine professional journalism. In essence they gaslight themselves, if you are familiar with the term.

    So if you were to do that you’d find that all of those sources of “news” tend to agree with one another, which really does provide a total gaslighting experience. You’d also find no need to study or even talk to the actual people/voters because at that point you would fully comprehend our right wing politics. Climate change, guns, immigration, social policy, The Full Monty.

    Our democracy here in the US is in crisis because our media environment is in crisis.

  • solarguy

    In the first instance I don’t get racist and I despise them. There is no such thing as different races of humans, there is only one race and that is the human race and it doesn’t matter what part of the world your genes come from. My genes come from Northern Europe, Saxon, Viking and Celt to be precise, however that doesn’t in anyway make me superior to someone who’s genes come from Asia or Africa, the latter being where we all spring from in any case.

    So for all you racist’s out there here is the good news, the only difference between you and someone who has a different skin colour is how you use what’s between your ears.

  • Coley

    “It’s more that when certain voters associated Obama with an issue, they inherently saw Obama through this racial lens and immediately viewed almost anything he was associated with as some kind of racial issue”

    Their is a certain kind of American, very well illustrated by looking at Trumps ‘base’ That totally believes any idea that originates from a person of colour is ‘bad’ and is designed to eradicate ‘white privilege’
    As a result you have the situation where millions of poor Americans are prepared to lose out on health insurance because A, it was introduced by a black president and B, the current ‘president’ needs cuts to fund his trillion dollar tax cuts to his (real) billionaire ‘friends’
    These people are prepared to live in poverty as long as their black fellow Americans are reduced to ‘absolute poverty’
    The idea of a person of colour enjoying equal rights and opportunities is total athemea to this group of people.