An overwhelming majority of South Carolina residents believe climate change is real. That’s an encouraging finding from a Winthrop University poll conducted in October in which 95 percent of respondents agreed that Earth’s climate is changing.
But that’s pretty much where the consensus stops.
About 20 percent of respondents said climate change “is primarily a natural process” while 28 percent said “humans are the primary cause.” Nearly half of those surveyed blamed it on humans and nature equally.
The upshot is that more than three-quarters of South Carolina residents think humans have at least something to do with climate change. That’s up slightly from when Winthrop asked a similar question in 2012.
But the percentage of people who think humans are the main cause of climate change actually dropped somewhat since then. That’s a concern.
Accepting that climate change is a real phenomenon is obviously a good first step toward meeting one of humanity’s greatest challenges head-on. Agreeing on the cause, however, is also important in order to figure out which solutions are most likely to have an impact.
It’s worth pointing out that making predictions about the impacts of specific policy changes decades into the future is obviously fraught with problems.
That’s why some scientists think coastal cities like Charleston could be completely underwater within a few decades as melting ice and warmer temperatures drive sea level rise, for example. And why some think the impact will only be a few inches of higher water levels over a century or more.
Wild variation in predictions aside, almost all scientists think the seas will be higher, since almost all scientists think the planet is getting warmer. So it’s good that almost all South Carolina residents are on a similar page.
That means we can at least agree that efforts to promote resiliency, like building stronger sea walls and pump systems and homes that don’t flood, are worth the investment, even if we can’t necessarily agree on where to find the funds.
A carbon tax, for instance, could create a free-market incentive to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, and raise money to pay for climate change-related infrastructure in the process.
That could be a tough sell, however, if too many political leaders reject the data that show carbon in the atmosphere is heating up the planet or ignore polls that suggest people are concerned about climate change. Demanding action and keeping up political pressure can help.
Similarly, everyday efforts like cutting back on car trips or investing in home solar panels or eating a little less meat can have a huge impact too if enough people make small changes. Believing that those otherwise mundane changes matter is crucial in encouraging more people to make them.
It’s reassuring that South Carolina residents overwhelmingly believe the climate is changing. It’s even more hopeful that most of us think humans are a factor. Now we just have to reach a consensus on what to do about it.