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While parts of his state have been ravaged by deluge this summer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is pretty sure most Americans don’t really care about the climate crisis.
McConnell has been rightly pushing for federal disaster relief to get Kentuckians back on their feet after the freak floods.
He did the same late last year when freak tornadoes swept through the state.
That kind of spending is OK.
But when he led Republican opposition to the massive bill Democrats hope will get the country off of carbon-emitting energy sooner, McConnell said people are concerned with other things.
“The American people are clear about their priorities. Environmental regulation is a 3% issue,” McConnell said in a statement on Sunday following the Senate’s passage of the bill. “Americans want solutions for inflation, crime, and the border,” he added, suggesting Democrats shouldn’t be spending on the climate crisis.
A failure to tie floods to climate spending
Neither of Kentucky’s Republican senators voted for the climate bill. The state’s Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, rarely mentions climate change and, as Inside Climate News has pointed out, he does not list climate change as a driving force behind his environmental policy.
Democrats like Beshear and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin who can succeed in coal states aren’t going to advertise the climate crisis.
“I wish I could tell you why we keep getting hit here in Kentucky,” Beshear said of the flooding and to the consternation of climate activists who know exactly why Kentucky keeps getting hit. “I wish I could tell you why areas where people may not have much continue to get hit and lose everything. I can’t give you the why, but I know what we do in response to it. And the answer is everything we can. These are our people. Let’s make sure we help them out.”
In the wake of tragic flooding might not be the time to caterwaul about the climate crisis, but as the rate of natural disasters increases, as scientists say it will, the dots will have to be connected for more Americans.
About half the country doesn’t think the climate crisis will hurt them
A majority of Americans acknowledge that climate change is real and that humans contribute to it.
But a lot of people in eastern Kentucky might not know they’re feeling the effects of the climate crisis.
About half the country in 2021 – 47% – believed global warming would harm them personally, according to data gathered by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
It used a statistical model to apply the results on a state-by-state basis and estimated that Kentucky residents were less likely than the American public as a whole to believe that humans are mostly to blame for climate change or that climate change would harm them personally.
Even mentioning climate change can be polarizing
When the climate bill was in doubt last year, CNN’s René Marsh visited parts of West Virginia that suffered disastrous flooding in 2016.
‘I’m not buying into the whole climate change thing,” Jimmy Rader, a retired Iraq war veteran in Elkview, West Virginia, told Marsh. He was still rebuilding his house years after it was taken out by the flooding. Watch that report here.
And read Marsh’s great story this week about how melting ice in Greenland could create an opportunity to mine nickel and cobalt needed to power electric vehicles.
Not driving voters
The climate crisis might be the existential threat driving an increase in weird weather and national disasters, but it’s not likely to drive the majority of people out to vote in November.
In a CNN poll conducted by SSRS in June and July, only about a third of registered voters said that climate change would be extremely important to their vote for Congress this year. That includes about half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters and just 13% of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters.
To McConnell’s point about Americans’ concerns, the economy and inflation were the top-cited issues.
A climate bill sold as an inflation bill
Democrats decided to market their climate and health care bill as the Inflation Reduction Act, even though it probably will have little or no short-term effect on inflation.
That doesn’t mean Democrats can’t claim to have done the world a solid by uniting to spend billions to more quickly cut down on carbon emissions.
But as long as they can’t effectively tie the need for the spending to the natural disasters, it won’t do much for them politically.
Climate spending will help red states too
Framed as economic opportunity, the move to renewable energy is finding an audience in red states, as CNN’s Ella Nilsen wrote in April, when she looked at the booming wind industry in places such as Oklahoma.
That industry will certainly benefit from the nearly $370 billion in climate spending over 10 years that Democrats are on track to deliver when the House votes on the sweeping bill later this week.
“Let’s be clear: If we tackle our emissions, the root cause of what is driving global warming and a changing climate, then we will stabilize temperatures and we will keep the worst effects of climate change from impacting our communities and our people,” said Ali Zaidi, the Biden administration’s deputy national climate adviser, who appeared on CNN on Monday to talk about the climate bill but was also asked about the Kentucky flooding.
One more click
CNN’s Brandon Tensley wrote for his Race Deconstructed newsletter that climate change is hitting some communities harder than others. He talked to Deke Arndt, the chief of climate science and services at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
Key lines: “The reality is that when creeks get up and out of their banks, they almost always find the folks who are already living closer to the margins, whether these are people in manufactured housing or mobile homes or people in homes that are well within the floodplain,” Arndt told CNN. “We saw it in eastern Kentucky last week. We saw it in my home region of western North Carolina last summer.”
It’s an unrelenting theme, experts say: Flash floods, in particular, punch hard on already vulnerable communities. To help protect against climate-related hazards, we must think about disaster mitigation not as a short-term goal – but rather as a long-term one.