Latin Americans Take Climate Change Seriously

The Argentinian town of Ushuaia’s water supply is dwindling due to the receding Martial Glacier. Photo: Getty
The Argentinian town of Ushuaia’s water supply is dwindling due to the receding Martial Glacier. Photo: Getty

More than eight out of 10 adults in Mexico and Central America believe climate change is a serious issue for their country, according to report out Thursday from the Latin American Public Opinion Project. Head to South America, and more than seven adults say the same. The Caribbean comes in third with more than six adults for every 10. In the United States and Canada, on the other hand, that number is closer to four out of 10 adults. (Really, though?)

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“Climate change is a highly politicized and partisan issue in the United States, and we wanted to examine whether that is a common characteristic of this issue in other countries in the region,” Elizabeth Zechmeister, the project’s director, who worked on the report, said in a press release. “If not politics, then what predicts attitudes about climate change in these other places?”

The report—which used data from the project’s 2016-2017 Americans Barometer Study that spans 29 countries and includes more 43,000 interviews—discovered that education, wealth, and concern for natural disasters influenced opinions in other parts of the world. Political leanings play a tiny role across Latin America (though enough to be statistically significant for right-leaning individuals), but these other factors play a much larger role. The more educated people were, the more wealth they had, or the more they pondered over natural disasters, the more likely they were to take climate change seriously.

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Photo: Duncan Hull / Flickr
Photo: Duncan Hull / Flickr

Makes sense. After all, in many parts of Latin America, a natural disaster could be the difference between a life above or below poverty. The fight to protect the environment is so intense throughout Latin America that countries like Honduras and Brazil see their environmental activists murdered at some of the highest rates in the world. Their impressive ecosystems—from the Amazon Rainforest in South America to the arid tropical forests that dot Central America—are threatened by a changing climate and extractive industries like mining and logging.

The United States and Canada are also full of natural systems that climate change is holding hostage: from melting ice glaciers to sinking island communities. So why is the U.S. slacking? Why don’t we take climate change seriously? The report doesn’t get into Canada much, but we know what’s the deal in the U.S.: politics.

The Pew Research Center has released some new data, and it shows only 18 percent of Republicans think climate change should be a top priority. That number more than triples to 68 percent for Democrats. So some of us care about climate change.

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That translates to a populace that elects a president who doesn’t even believe in the science behind climate change, a president who’s determined to repeal every environmental policy that would increase humanity’s chances of surviving this crisis. When President Donald Trump brings this climate denialism onto the international stage, the U.S. looks like a joke. In Davos this week, French President Emanuel Macron literally made a joke about the president’s belief that cold weather disproves global warming.

Perhaps the president and all his nonbelievers will change their minds after a year of record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes, and temperatures.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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US leaders in industry, finance, government, NGOs and influential foundations like Pew cited above do take climate change seriously, they seriously don’t want to deal with it beyond handwaving. There’s too much money to be made on causing climate change based on modern lifestyles dependent upon emitting greenhouse gases.

Yes we do have a followership problem as presented in the many public surveys on climate change on opinions from you, me and everyone we know. Yes we do have an education problem as far as educating folks on the science behind climate change. However it all comes down to leadership. Our leaders we either elect or ones pulling economic strings really don’t want to upset the economic growth formula that has been in place since somewhere between the first trading of goods between early man and the industrial revolution.

We don’t have to convince everybody that action is needed to address climate change so that leaders will act. We just need to convince the right people that action is essential so they push on leaders. And the right people better be well educated on the fundamentals of climate investigation, mitigation and adaptation or they come off as a bunch of harpy flibbertigibbet environmentalists.

To end. Environmentalists won’t be listened to if they themselves don’t understand the politics, science, and technology required to backout of the mess we’re in. Also, technology alone won’t do shit without policy. I’m talking to you, tech libertarians.