When Utah's newest congressman opined last month that he isn't convinced that human activity is responsible for climate change, or that climate change is as much of a threat as scientists are warning it is, he took a position that a new poll suggests increasing numbers of his own Republican Party are abandoning. So, too, are more and more independents who lean toward the GOP.
The results of the poll by George Mason and Yale universities released last week show that more than three quarters of the 726 Republicans and independents polled favor using renewable energy much or somewhat more than it is today. Only slightly fewer indicated that moving toward alternative energies should begin immediately.
Without reading too much into the results of a single poll, it is possible to interpret them as an encouraging sign that the political polarization that has grown up around the science of climate change and development of renewable forms of energy finally is beginning to crack.
Given the gravity of the threat posed by the greenhouse-gas emissions that are causing the planet to warm, it would be welcome news indeed if the poll accurately reflects the beginnings of a bipartisan consensus on climate change and what should be done about it. For without that consensus, still more time will be wasted before the United States acts decisively to limit carbon emissions, time that scientists say is in dangerously short supply if the worst consequences of climate change are to be avoided.
Ed Maibach, of the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication, quoted by Mother Jones, said the significance of the poll is that "on issues related to energy and climate change, the Republican leadership may be out of step with a significant portion of their base and other relevant voters."
If that evaluation is accurate, climate change denial as an effective political tool may be headed in the same direction as the GOP's crumbling opposition to gay marriage. As with gender equality, though, Republican voters will have to persuade their party and its leaders that the views espoused by Utah's Rep. Chris Stewart and like-minded members of Congress simply won't wash. And that day may be coming sooner than later.
With 2012 the warmest year on record, and with climate-related disasters such as droughts and superstorms on the rise, the reality of climate change is becoming harder for the Stewarts within the GOP to spout climate claptrap without sounding like heedless dupes of the extractive industries.