The Hill recently posted an article titled, “Climate change is still the top issue in the 2024 election,” written by William S. Becker, which makes a barrage of claims about climate change and public policy. The piece appears to be intended to encourage voters to hold climate issues as their top priority in the upcoming United States elections. His claims, including that scientists agree climate change is an existential crisis; most Americans hold climate change as a high priority; that fossil fuels receive undue federal subsidies; that rising insurance costs point towards the impact of climate change on property, are all false.
There is no consensus on global warming as an existential threat. Americans only claim climate change is a serious issue in isolation, when polled against other issues it ranks dead last. Fossil fuels receive nothing out of the ordinary in terms of subsidies, especially considering the amounts green projects receive, and rising insurance costs are not proof of climate change since extreme weather is not also increasing.
Becker begins by asserting that voters and candidates must treat global warming as a crisis. He says “no international, national or local issue is more important than global warming.” He takes particular issue with one participant in a Pew poll who said he “believed” that climate change is natural, Becker scoffs that global warming is a scientific issue, that the drive to “do something” about it is “a rational response to an existential threat on which the world’s climate scientists agree with virtual unanimity.”
Right away, despite his linking to a NASA page on the subject, the scientific “consensus” narrative is misleading and in Becker’s articulation outright false. As explained in Climate at a Glance: Consensus, most scientists do believe the Earth is warming and humans are playing a role, but a strong majority of scientists are also not very worried about it. The oft-made claim of a scientific consensus comes from the survey of a single scientific organization, the American Meteorological Society, whose members said largely that while they believe humans are causing the majority of warming one way or another, but only 30 percent were “very” worried about it. 28 percent said the exact opposite, that they are not at all or not very worried. This hardly represents a “virtual unanimity” of scientists regarding an existential threat.
Becker claims that “54 percent of Americans consider global warming a significant threat — still too few — but only 23 percent of Republicans agree,” citing Pew research on public opinions about climate change, but the reality is that even those numbers are only achieved when the polling is climate change centered. When Americans, and for that matter Europeans, are polled on climate change compared to other issues like the economy, energy costs, food costs, crime, and other metrics, climate change consistently ranks last or next to last in concern.
For example, another Pew poll conducted in 2020 found that, despite Pew’s spin on the data, climate change was second to last or last in importance among the 12 policy issues voters were surveyed about.
Even when polled about just environmental issues, voters rank climate change last among other concerns like water and air pollution.
Becker also claims that fossil fuels receive so much in the way of subsidies, that the “unprecedented” incentives for renewables are “more than negated by the direct and hidden costs of fossil fuels.” He says that most Americans are not aware of “how big the subsidies are,” but if Americans are indicating that they do not believe traditional energy get massive subsidies from government, they are correct.
The most recent Energy Information Administration report on federal energy subsidies, as discussed in the Climate Realism post “Right, Fox News, Renewable Energy Subsidies Dominate Federal Energy Handouts,” shows that fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, liquid petroleum, and even nuclear, get miniscule amounts in terms of direct and indirect federal subsidies compared to “green” energy projects. The tax write-offs that oil companies do get for drilling wells and producing are no different than the kinds of breaks that any major industrial company receives that are meant to help encourage investment. If fossil fuel companies were denied those tax incentives, they would be unique among American businesses for not having them.
Luckily for us, the EIA was transparent enough to include a breakdown of what all those tax incentives and direct expenditures like grants and research and development funding go to – and lo and behold, a significant amount of even those funds directed into the fossil fuel industry are actually going towards green initiatives within those industries. A large chunk of the direct expenditures that went to petroleum liquids related projects over the past few years were in service of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency programs like the clean diesel emissions reduction program, and state clean diesel grant program.
The “fossil fuel subsidies” complaint from alarmists and Becker is a red herring, distracting from the 46 percent of all federal subsidies that go to renewables alone, and additional 35 percent that go to energy efficiency and conservation related programs.
Finally, Becker claims bizarrely that climate change has “knock-off effects like the growing “climate insurance bubble,” where 39 million underinsured properties are at high risk of floods, wildfires, and hurricanes,” but rising insurance costs are not proof of climate change.
The extreme weather events mentioned, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, are not increasing. The number of people living and building more valuable homes in regions susceptible to those natural disasters, however, are increasing, as shown many times in Climate Realism, here, here, and here, for instance. Further, part of this is the government’s fault for subsidizing flood and hurricane insurance, which helps people feel they can afford to live in areas where flooding and tropical storms are more common.
Becker ought to have the same skepticism he has for republican lawmakers towards those big insurance companies that have a financial incentive to inflate people’s fears of extreme weather.
The Hill and Becker should have fact checked the article, and injected some more balance into what appears to otherwise be a propaganda piece. Practically none of the claims made were true, and while not every claim could be addressed in this single post, none of them were overly unique either. Much of the article is devoted to ranting about alleged Republican and fossil fuel company conspiracies to downplay the threat of climate change, but Becker and The Hill can’t claim to be on the side of truth when they unscrupulously promote so many falsehoods.