Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
September 23, 2014
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When it comes to ISIS and climate change, determining the bigger threat depends on party lines

Opinions on threats depend on political affiliation

WASHINGTON D.C. – For the past month ISIS-related news has dominated the U.S. press and political agenda. Congress spent most of its first two weeks back in session drafting a response to the terrorist group, which has taken over major parts of Syria and Iraq, and voted in 11 days to arm Syrian rebels.

This week though, the media lens is turning back to another threat—one that many experts have been warning of for years but has generated few measurable political actions. Yes, I’m talking about climate change.

This week world leaders will meet for the first time in five years to discuss what to do about global warming at the UN Climate Change Summit in New York City and already more than 600,000 protesters across the globe are rallying in support of curbing emissions.

The Obama Administration has actively voiced its support of curbing CO2 gases and other actions that lead to climate change. At a meeting with foreign ministers Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the threat of climate change by comparing it to ISIS:

“We see people fighting over water in some places. There are huge challenges to food security and challenges to the ecosystem, our fisheries and … the acidification of the ocean is a challenge for all of us. And when you accrue all of this, while we are confronting ISIL [an alternate name for ISIS] and we are confronting terrorism and we are confronting Ebola and other things, those are immediate.”

Kerry continued:

“This also has an immediacy that people need to come to understand, but it has even greater longer-term consequences that can cost hundreds of billions, trillions of dollars, lives, and the security of the world.”

Yet to most Americans—and members of Congress—the nationally perceived “threat” of climate change pales in comparison to that of ISIS.

According to an August Pew Research Center report, 67 percent of those polled believed ISIS is a “major threat” to the U.S. while only 48 said the same of global climate change. Respondents ranked the spread of diseases like the Ebola virus and North Korea’s nuclear program higher on the list of threats.

The reason? According to Pew, it may be the lack of media attention coupled with low public interest surrounding long-standing issues like Iran’s nuclear program and China’s emergence as a world power. The percentage rating for both major threat areas fell by 9 and 6 points respectively since 2013.

Respondents’ opinions on perceived threats are, not shockingly, also divided by political party.

Pew found that both Republicans and Democrats view the threat of ISIS on a relatively equal scale (78 percent compared to 65 percent) but for the threat of climate change there is a much wider split (25 percent compared to 68 percent.)

“Global climate change registers for Democrats as among the greatest threats to the U.S. (68% major). By comparison, just 25% of Republicans see global climate change as a major threat to the U.S,” said the report.

“As in prior surveys on international threats, most Republicans say that global climate change is either a minor threat (32%) or not a threat (40%) to the U.S. Among Republicans and GOP leaners, most (62%) who agree with the Tea Party say that global climate change is “not a threat.”’

So while members of Congress were able to come together in both the Senate and the House to authorize support in Syria against Isis last week, if data is any indicator, anti-global warming protestors may need more than a few rallies to see similar actions from Congress in the near future.