James Werrell

Most Americans want environmental regulation

Something strange is going on. This weather isn’t normal.

Scientists who support the idea of global climate change enhanced by human activity (which is nearly all scientists) have been careful over the years not to conflate changes in the weather with the more gradual but ultimately more dire effects of climate change. Changes in the weather, even drastic ones, from one season to the next are normal; changes that result in melting glaciers, a global rise in ocean temperatures and major shifts in climate zones are not.

So, the experts have taken pains not to attribute a spring snowstorm or an 80-degree day in December as proof of anything other than, when it comes to weather, stuff happens. But the experts are beginning to hint at something different.

They’re telling us that if the weather we are experiencing strikes you as out of the ordinary, you shouldn’t be surprised. It is – and global climate change is a big part of the reason.

In short, the effects of climate change we were supposed to encounter way down the road already are starting to surface. And, as they have from the start, the real scientists have the evidence.

Let’s pick an easy one: As global temperatures continue to rise, 2016 was the hottest year on the historical record and the third consecutive record-breaking year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Of the 17 hottest years ever recorded, 16 have now occurred since 2000.

And we now are free to conclude that this phenomenon is part of the reason this year’s local peach crop was heavily damaged by a March freeze after fruits appeared too early during an unusually warm winter.

And, more seriously, we know that climate change contributed significantly to the drought and resulting famine that has created a food crisis for 70 million people in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.

Scientists say that about 75 percent of last year’s record warmth was due to human impact.

We no longer have to dig through mountains of data to ascertain the possible consequences of climate change. All we have to do now is step outside.

And Americans are noticing. More than half of Americans, 57 percent, polled in a new HuffPost/YouGov survey believe humans are causing climate change. Only 24 percent think the climate is changing but not because of human activity, and only 5 percent believe the climate isn’t changing at all.

A 55 percent majority of Americans want the nation to remain in the Paris Agreement, the global, 195-nation pact, including the U.S. and China, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Donald Trump and his advisers are thinking about pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said earlier this month that the administration thinks federal money spent on climate-change research is a “waste of your money.” The poll shows that 49 percent of Americans disagree, saying the Environmental Protection Agency should fund more climate research.

Only 28 percent agree with Mulvaney.

On Tuesday, Trump made an elaborate show of gutting former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of Obama’s policies to combat global warming by requiring a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gases emitted by existing power plants from 2005 levels by 2030. Flanked by coal miners, Trump signed an executive order titled “Energy Independence” that rolls back Obama’s regulations on power plant emissions limits, coal mining on federal lands and regulations on fracking and methane.

Expect more attempts to unwind existing climate policies in the days to come. But is that what most Americans want?

The HuffPost/YouGov poll indicates otherwise. When asked whether they thought the current level of environmental regulation in the U.S. is too high, only 23 percent of respondents said yes.

Another 26 percent said it was about right. And 28 percent said it was too low. That’s 54 percent who think Trump is on the wrong path regarding rules to ensure clean air and water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is no secret that the energy industry wields enormous clout with the Trump administration. The president might assume that voters also support efforts to eliminate environmental regulations and hobble the EPA from within.

But he appears to be very wrong. Most Americans seem to have wised up to the fact that climate change is a serious threat, and they think the federal government needs to do something about it.

James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.