President Donald Trump continued this week to deny the effects of climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific agreement that it is occurring. However, even while Trump and many other Republicans deny man-made climate change, a shift appears to be occurring among Republican voters in North Carolina, a state which has been severely damaged by two hurricanes in two years.
The Republicans now can see the evidence right before their eyes, which makes denial impossible any longer.
The hurricane and flooding damage has caused many conversations among farmers, fishermen and North Carolinians on how climate change and global warming have hurt the local economy and the environment.
Streets and parking lots in Wilmington along the Cape Fear River, like many other areas, now flood regularly. There were even new floods last week after Michael’s remnants came through town. Flooding during Hurricane Florence cut off Wilmington from the rest of the state for days, a major problem for the area’s 200,000+ residents.
In addition, hog manure filled lagoons on industrial farms north of the city, causing them to overflow. This contaminated their water sources. This, along with toxic coal ash released into the river caused the death of fish and wildlife.
Besides hurricane flooding and damage, North Carolina fishermen have also noticed in recent years that sea bass are migrating much further north because of warming ocean temperatures.
“I’m not a scientist. I just know what I see,” said Carl Marshburn, a Republican who has operated tour boats along the Cape Fear River for three decades. He said marine organisms are growing on his boats due to saltwater intrusion.
No longer is global warming a taboo topic among conservatives in New Hanover County, which is a swing county in a swing state. This is an area that Trump carried by just four percentage points in 2016.
Rob Zapple, a Democrat in a competitive race to hang onto his New Hanover County commissioner seat, is glad to see Republicans now willing to talk about the problem, which they euphemistically call “recurrent flooding.”
“They can see and feel and understand the effects,” Zapple said. “All of a sudden, we were allowed to have a conversation with our Republican counterparts, and that could be productive.”
The change in attitudes is now being reflected in recent opinion polls. An Elon University survey in early October after Florence arrived, showed that 37 percent of Republicans believe global warming is “very likely” to negatively impact North Carolina coastal communities in the next 50 years. That is nearly triple the percentage of Republicans — 13 percent — who felt that way in 2017.
The percentage of Republicans who felt climate change is “not at all likely” to harm the state’s coastal communities dropped by 10 points over the past year — from 41 percent in September 2017 to 31 percent now.
“That suggests to me that there’s a very large minority within the Republican Party who are at least open to the first steps to accepting that climate change is a possibility,” said Jason Husser, a political science professor who directs the Elon poll. “It signals some sort of tipping point.”
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.