This summer, a delegation of Republican climate activists visited Tangier Island, a speck of grassland in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, to try to convince its 450 residents to take climate change seriously.
At a dinner attended by island residents Aug. 2, the activists from RepublicEn headed by former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis laid out the stakes: The sea level is rising, and some scientists estimate that within decades the island, already suffering severe erosion, will need to be abandoned.
The people of Tangier Island were used to this kind of message. Former Vice President Al Gore, a prominent Democratic climate activist, had given the same speech to islanders three days earlier. They were also used to rejecting it.
“We’ll talk to everybody,” said James Eskridge, mayor of the mainly Republican island community. “But they’re not going to change many minds here.” Residents, he said, do not believe in climate change: they want a new sea wall to prevent erosion, not a lecture about saving the world with solar panels.
Tangier Island’s steadfast rejection of climate change reflects the rigidity of American opinions about global warming, often defined along political party lines.
Reuters/Ipsos polling shows more than a third of Americans, mainly Republicans, reject the scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activity. Less than a third of Americans believe global warming poses an imminent threat to the United States. These views barely budged after a series of devastating hurricanes this summer.
That rift in opinion has proven to be a headwind for U.S. lawmakers seeking broad solutions to stem climate change, like imposing a cost on carbon emissions or encouraging cleaner renewable energy technologies to replace fossil fuels.
And while conservatives have long been skeptical about climate change, doubters have a powerful new ally: U.S. President Donald Trump. He has called climate change a hoax and has started withdrawing the United States from a global pact to combat it, citing what he calls the huge economic cost.
Eskridge told Reuters Trump called him in June after seeing a report about severe erosion problems on the island, telling him not to worry about sea level rise.
“I believe man plays a part in it but not to the extent that others have been talking about – that’s what me and Donald Trump were talking about,” Eskridge said. (Reuters)
Photography by Adrees Latif/Reuters