THE BLOG
12/01/2014 02:04 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

Contradictions and Confusion

Many Americans seem to be conflicted, and thus, confused about the degree of importance of environmental reforms.

Those concerned about global warming who nevertheless voted in the recent elections for candidates with opposing views are an obvious example.

Yet their inconsistency is not in isolation. A recent national opinion survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the American Academy of Religion discloses some striking contradictions among the general public.

Only five percent of those surveyed rated climate change as the most important environmental problem, yet more than two-thirds believed the phenomenon would cause substantial harm. Moreover, almost two-thirds (63 percent) responded that climate change should be addressed immediately to reduce future economic costs. In connection with that sentiment, lo and behold, 70 percent said the federal government needed to do more to combat climate change. Where were they on Election Day?

A 57 percent majority viewed religion as ordaining us to be conscientious custodians of the planet's natural resources. Yet 49 percent believed national disasters signaled the biblical end of the world, making resource preservation expendable (which means some of them held opposing views at the same time). Actually, more than a third said they valued nature solely as an object for exploitation.

The Republicans may have won big in November. But some of the survey's findings contradict that result, boding ill for the GOP's professed campaign against alleged environmental regulatory overreach. Two-thirds of the respondents supported stricter limits on auto emissions even if the sales price of vehicles increased as a result. Six in ten favored President Obama's tighter regulation of carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, an administration proposal bitterly opposed by Republican lawmakers. In addition, two-thirds of survey respondents approved of renewable energy subsidies, and slightly over half opposed fracking for natural gas. Both stances are anathemas to the newly installed GOP majority.

What accounts for the public's discrepancies and vacillating views?

Right Wing media outlets are spreading a lot of anti-environmental misinformation that is causing confusion. Many Americans are vulnerable to deception because of lack of exposure to the hard facts and solid scientific research that provide the basis for informed judgments.

It is up to responsible parties in the media, schools and religious institutions to demolish the myths, not the least of which is that tightening environmental regulations will damage the economy.

It means defusing code words designed to stir emotions and trigger incongruous negative responses from people ordinarily predisposed to progressive environmental reforms. Americans need to be reminded that labeling environmentalists as "socialists, extremists", or "radicals" is nothing more than sheer demagoguery.

That lesson learned, a major impetus for contradictions and confusion recedes.