Everybody talks about the weather, but what about the climate? - Brent Singh Sharkey, Mia Zubeck (Group 12)
2016 was not only declared the hottest year on record, but was the third consecutive year to break that record in the state of Indiana. However, the question must still be asked. Why should Hoosiers be concerned with Climate Change? In a single sentence, within the next decade Indianapolis is projected to have more than 80 days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with at least 28 days above 100 degrees.
Side effects of hotter summer
1. Agriculture: Indiana is one of the nation’s top states in terms of agricultural yields. Warmer winters and summers can lead to decreased crop yields and lowered livestock productivity. This heat stress can cause severe droughts, leading to decreased agricultural yields, crop death, and even soil erosion as experienced in other drought-prone parts of the nation. In addition, crop pests have traditionally been killed off by Indiana’s intensely cold winters, but with warmer winters ahead of us farmers will have to offset the increased insect population by spending more money on insecticides.
2. Air pollution: Air quality worsens as temperature rises. Ozone is a natural gas that protects Earth from UV rays when concentrated in the Earth’s mid-atmosphere, an area known as the Ozone Layer. However, ozone gas can also be a by-product of man-made pollutants and ultimately concentrates itself where humans and other creatures can breathe it in. This lower-altitude ozone pollution, known by many as smog, is harmful to the Earth, humans, and other organisms that rely on breathing in oxygen. People with asthma and other respiratory illnesses will be at risk, along with the elderly and children. “Spare The Air” days will become more common, those with compromised respiratory systems will be advised to stay inside, and among those unable to find shelter from the summer sun, heat-related deaths may rise.
3. Flooding: While Indiana’s upcoming summers are projected to be much drier, our winters, springs, and falls are projected to become much wetter in the same period of time. The rain that does fall over these seasons are going to be in heavy, concentrated storms. Spring rainfall is projected to rise by around 15% in the next several decades, would push back the planting of spring crops and can lead to polluted rivers. In addition, due to the fact this rainfall will occur in larger storms rather than spread out across seasons, rivers that are already prone to flooding will likely flood more severely, and those which previously came close to flooding are more likely to pass their banks entirely.
We asked 50 Hoosiers about their opinions of the threat of Climate Change. In order to collect this information, we created an online poll to send via email and telephone. Each participant in the survey was asked to choose from the options of if they were “Alarmed”, “Concerned”, “Cautious”, “Disengaged”, “Doubtful”, and “Dismissive” with regards to Climate Change after being given a short summary of what each of these options implied. Over half of the participants chose “Cautious”, which was defined as “Believing that Climate Change is a problem, but not a personal threat. No urgency to deal with it”. The Hoosiers surveyed ranged from college students at Purdue University, from a mix of rural and urban backgrounds, as well as individuals that were born in the “Baby Boomer” generation. Many were surprised to hear that, when Yale University surveyed a group of American adults, more than half of the participants voted “Alarmed” or “Concerned”, which were defined as, “Very convinced Climate Change is happening, and willing to/already have taken action”.
So, what explains this disconnect between the individuals surveyed in the two studies? There are multiple possible explanations. One is that, on average, Hoosiers are simply not educated enough on the issue. As our study showed, people in Midwestern states are aware that Climate Change will affect Americans, but do not believe it will affect them personally. In the image below, areas where Climate Change is discussed often are colored purple and areas where Climate Change is usually not a topic of conversation in green. As is evident, with the exception of rare, isolated districts, Midwestern areas show significantly less concern about Climate Change than coastal areas.
If Hoosiers are concerned, how do their elected officials feel?
While many Hoosiers are at least aware of the realities of Climate Change, elected officials in the state are a more mixed bunch. As according to USA Today subsidiary IndyStar, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett believes in severely reducing and mitigating his city’s Greenhouse Gas emissions in order to reduce its contribution to the state’s overall climate footprint, in order to eventually reach the goal of carbon neutrality.
Contrasting that however, is Indiana’s state politicians, who have shown a personal, if not institutional, policy of ignoring or outright denying the existence of Climate Change. For example, Senator Jim Banks has shown a track record of voting against environmental regulations, for example choosing to vote for the repeal of 2015 EPA regulations over water safety, and expressed disbelief over the scientific consensus of Climate Change. At the same time, both former governor Pence and current head of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, have opted to prevent the instantiation of coal-fired power plant regulations, despite the existence of EPA requirements for these reductions, under the so-called “Clean Power Plan”. This is likely at least in part due to the prevalence of coal mining within the state, as well as Indiana’s traditional stance as a heavily pro-industry state.
This ultimately aligns with the attitudes of the Hoosiers surveyed. Either Climate Change is not an immediate concern, or it is not something to be worried about at all. It is possible that individuals simply view it a small enough priority that other voting preferences take precedence, but either way, Indiana citizens and officials do not show a particular concern with the dangers of disruptions of the climate, man-made or otherwise, at least on a statewide level.
Is this a concern?
Overall, yes. If the issue is a simple lack of awareness or education, then there is at least a major chance to improve public outlook, particularly through more aggressive education and outreach efforts, but as shown by the outlook of state officials such behavior may be considered insufficient or not worth paying attention to. As such, the lack of education is not a particular surprise. After all, if no effort is made to educate, there is no way to ensure, or even expect, attitudes to change. Once consequences of Climate Change begin to make themselves more evident, however, it is possible that opinions will change. The question of whether that will be too late remains to be seen.