How did we get to this point, where our politics determines whether we trust scientists or not?

By Katharine Hayhoe

New to Texas Tech, it was my first year as an atmospheric science professor. We’d just moved to Lubbock, the second most conservative town in the United States. A colleague asked me to guest teach his undergraduate geology course while he was out of town.

The packed lecture hall was cavernous and dark. Many of the students were glued to their phones; others were slumped over, dozing. I began with the fundamental components of the climate system; I waded through the geologic climate record and ice core data; and finally, I explained natural cycles and the role of carbon dioxide—both natural and human-produced—in controlling Earth’s climate.

I ended my lecture, as many professors do, with a hopeful invitation for any questions. One hand immediately shot up. Someone had been listening—and cared enough to ask a question! I thought. The first student stood up. I looked encouragingly toward him. He cleared his throat. And then, in a loud and belligerent tone, he stated:

“You’re a Democrat, aren’t you?”

That was my baptism by fire into what has now become a fact of life across the entire country.

Over the last fifteen years, climate change has shifted from a respectably bipartisan issue to become the most politically polarized issue in the entire United States. Today, the best predictor of our opinions on climate change (Is it real? Is it humans? And should we do anything about it?) is not our familiarity with science, nor is it our level of education. It is simply where we lie on the political spectrum.

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