More than 80 percent of King County adults believe global warming is happening, a rate of sentiment 15th highest nationally. Typical, perhaps, for a stronghold of liberal coastal elites — but new data show the climate-change issue has some unexpected nuances.
Not many of them live in King County, though.
More than 80 percent of adults here believe that global warming is happening, according to new data from the Yale Program for Climate Change Communication. That ranks King 15th out of more than 3,100 U.S. counties.
The Yale scientists developed a new statistical model for estimating opinions about climate change at the state and county level for 2016, using a large national survey of more than 18,000 people, plus other sources.
Nationally, 70 percent of adults say they accept global warming as fact, according to the data.
The highest belief in rising temperatures — 84 percent — is in Alameda County, California, where both Oakland and Berkeley are located. Emery County, Utah, is at the opposite end of the spectrum — less than half of the adult population there accepts the overwhelming scientific evidence.
A quick look at the list of the top 15 counties — in addition to King, it includes New York, San Francisco and the District of Columbia — might reinforce the idea that climate change is mainly a preoccupation of liberal coastal elites.
Not true, says Anthony Leiserowitz, senior research scientist and director of the Yale program.
“Look within Texas, a state stereotypically thought of as deep red,” he said. “There are a whole string of counties along the Mexican border that are more worried about climate change than many counties in California. It’s the Latino effect.”
Leiserowitz says Latinos are more concerned about climate change than any other racial and ethnic group in the country. The reasons behind that are not well understood at this point, but research is underway.
The data also reveal that African Americans and Native Americans acknowledge global warming at a higher rate than whites. Counties in the Deep South with the heaviest concentration of blacks, and counties where Indian reservations are located, show levels of concern about climate change higher than the national average.
“It’s not just a story about urban liberals,” Leiserowitz said.
When it comes to climate change, Washington falls along its typical ideological divide: the Puget Sound region vs. the rest of the state.
But there are a couple of exceptions. Whitman County, home to Washington State University, is significantly above the national average for belief in global warming, at 75 percent — it also is the sole Eastern Washington county that went for Hillary Clinton in November.
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More surprising, Kittitas County also leans to the left on this issue. Only one Puget Sound county — Mason — is below the U.S. average for belief in global warming.
According to Leiserowitz, the high-water mark for public acceptance of climate change was 2008, when it hit 71 percent nationally. But very quickly after, it dropped an astonishing 14 percentage points, bottoming out around 2010.
“Remember the Republican nominee for president in 2008 was John McCain,” Leiserowitz said. “For years he had been the sole champion of climate action within the U.S. Senate.”
“But then with the rise of the tea party after Obama was elected, you saw the entire Republican Party lurch hard to the right on numerous issues, including climate change,” he said. “The basic talking points were that it’s not happening or that it’s a hoax.”
And that message from the party’s political elites, as filtered through conservative media outlets like Fox News, had a profound impact on rank-and-file Republicans. It’s only in the last couple of years that belief in global warming has started to rise again.
The new data also show that 58 percent of Americans are worried about global warming, and 53 percent believe that human activity is its main cause.
That puts the majority at odds with the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. The Trump appointee said Thursday that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming.