Oct 3, 2019

Climate denial among D.C. policymakers thrives in echo chambers

Amy Harder, author of Generate

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The tendency for Washington policymakers to not accept mainstream climate science is growing inside echo chambers and under President Trump, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

Why it matters: The research adds some quantitative heft to the notion that Trump, who regularly dismisses and mocks climate change, is having a tangible impact among America’s most influential policy experts working inside the beltway of Washington, D.C.

Driving the news: Echo chambers — the concept that people share views only with those with similar views — have formed relatively quickly among policy leaders around misinformation of climate science under the Trump administration, according to the study, which is online but not-yet published in Environmental Research Communications.

  • “The president has empowered the people who don’t want there to be any climate policy to hunker down in their echo chambers,” says Dana Fisher, co-author and sociology professor at the University of Maryland.

Where it stands: The study surveyed and analyzed dozens of Washington elites across government, think tanks and more, over 3 separate periods: 2010, 2016 and 2017.

  • The latest year of research was the only time out of the 3 periods that the authors found echo chambers formed among those who do not accept the climate science consensus. They also found a lower tendency to agree with the statement that “human activities are an important driver of global climate change.”
  • The respondents’ names are not included in the study, but earlier research lists participating organizations, which include many congressional offices, think tanks, environmental groups and administration agencies.

The big picture: This trend is at complete odds with climate change and the science underpinning it. Nearly all scientists agree that human activity is a dominant cause of Earth’s temperature rise over the last century, and connections between that and extreme weather are getting clearer — both in real life and in research.

Go deeper: The stark reality of the IPCC's 1.5-degree climate report

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