Is There a Disconnect Between Hoosiers and Climate Change Science? - Ishan Kaul, Ferris Nimri, Amy Sabbadini (Group 11)
The Crossroads of America is notorious for many things—among them, an apathy and often flat-out denial of environmental change among its state representatives and residents. Indiana representative Jim Banks even went so far as to state that climate change is “largely leftist propaganda to change the way Americans live and create more government obstruction and intrusion in our lives." While this may seem like a more extreme example to many, Indiana has had a string of politicians that clearly align themselves with Banks’ beliefs. With regards to climate change, as governor of Indiana for two terms and your current president here at Purdue, Mitch Daniels stated on C-Span in 2010, “There’s been nothing but dubious news about the science of all this now for about a year, including apparent scientific wrongdoing.” Not only do these statements reflect the opinions of the politicians themselves, but of a large portion of Indiana residents. Known to be a major player in the “backbone of America” and for decades as an agricultural powerhouse, Indiana residents strive to attain the American dream, and any slight opposition is dismissed quickly. In order to maintain competitiveness in the future, all science suggests that without changes, temperature rises, floods, and more will most definitely affect Indiana residents and their productivity; fortunately, it is not too late even for Hoosiers to change how they perceive the environmental future.
Indiana residents often have conflicting views regarding the various aspects of climate change. As an Indiana resident who attended a private, Christian school in Indianapolis, I remember several times when peers and teachers alike denied global warming, making a fast, dubious comment on the matter and quickly changing direction. However, in a recent survey of 800 Indiana voters, 71% of Hoosiers agreed that protecting the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of slowing economic growth. What’s more, 70% believed that the government should do more to combat climate change. So what’s the problem? Why does a majority of Hoosiers want their government to be more involved in the fight against climate change, yet a shocking number of Hoosier leaders are so strongly opposed to it? The answer is likely a combination of several factors.
The first regards an unequal distribution of wealth and power within the state. White, wealthy, male, and Protestant, Hoosier politicians are exceedingly homogeneous in a state of diverse racial backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. Because of this, a discrepancy exists between Hoosiers and those who make political decisions on their behalf. Additionally, those who hold more traditional, religious values tend to view the Earth as something God intended for humans to dominate and use to flourish, rather than a place to be cared for.
The second factor concerns Hoosiers themselves. While Indiana is hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, residents don’t have to worry too much about rising sea levels. Because of this, apathy begins to grow for issues so far from home. Indiana is also infamous for terribly hot summers and bitingly cold winters, so extreme temperature changes are often perceived as the “same, crazy Indiana weather,” and climate change’s magnitude may be downplayed. Hoosiers themselves have the ability to pressure their representatives to make changes, but when a lack of knowledge exists about our own effect on global warming and its future impacts on us, this pressure is deficient. So, while the majority of Hoosiers clamor to reduce climate change impacts, their cries aren’t loud enough, so their incredulous representatives are slow to make change.
Although Hoosiers and the Indiana government don’t seem to be making strides towards reducing climate change impacts anytime soon, it may become an absolute necessity very soon. The effects of climate change on Indiana and the rest of the Midwest are already very apparent in the last century and don’t seem to be slowing down at all. Considering the already volatile weather that this state has, this could mean extremely dangerous conditions for us in the near future.
In the last century, Indiana has already experienced an increase in average climate by one degree. Although one degree doesn’t feel like a whole lot, a climate change of two or more degrees can change entire ecosystems and weather systems, so we’re getting there soon. In addition, Indiana has already been experiencing an increasing frequency and intensity of summer heat waves. For example, a 2012 drought in the midwest caused all shipping in the Mississippi River to be shut down and cost the Midwest
region around $275 million, and another in 2005 caused commercial transportation in the Ohio river to shut down.4 Hundreds of people have died from midwest heat waves in recent decades, and we’re expected to have at least 10 more days above 95 degrees a year in the next 70 years. In addition the Great Lakes have already warmed up by a few degrees, which makes deadly algal blooms far more likely. Another huge problem for Indiana in terms of climate change is floods. The average annual precipitation in the Midwest was already pretty high, but has increased about 5-10% in the past half century. Even worse, rainfall in the 4 wettest days of the year has increased 35% and streams have had 20% more water overflowing during floods than before. So basically our weather is just getting more and more extreme, which could mean deadly and unlivable conditions in the near future.
It seems clear that climate change is no longer a distant problem that only other parts of the world must deal with, but has instead slowly approached inland America. Indiana must take measures to limit climate change soon or risk destroying the state before the end of this century. The first step in this change involves changing the minds of those who have control of the state’s future- Hoosiers themselves. While the majority of them agree that global warming must be stopped, they likely underestimate the gravity of the situation. To begin, more media should be covering the science behind global warming, as mentioned previously. By raising awareness of the issue, Hoosiers will more eagerly pressure their local government representatives to make changes; the skepticism of these representatives will matter less given enough pressure from Indiana residents. If the state makes even one compulsory environmental course for high school students, this will greatly influence students to make green changes at home or in their future careers. Indiana has the power to prove to other states that being politically conservative and being at the forefront of limiting environmental impact aren’t mutually exclusive; this has the potential to make waves for other states that share similar opinions.
Hoosiers must be made aware of how they can make changes themselves outside of government as well. Discussion and education are key steps toward an informed electorate. The ways in which these conversations are approached is also a crucial step toward change. For example, information can be presented or addressed in different ways according to one’s audience. Those who are more skeptical about global climate change might be more receptive to being given information about the effects on a local level rather than a state wide or global perspective. Another way to persuade those who might be skeptics or who don’t care about climate change is to educate using non-biased media sources and open forum discussions. Education is also a crucial aspect of getting Hoosiers to care about climate change. Climate change initiatives integrated into community programs could help foster a generation that is concerned with preserving the quality of our world.
By learning about ways to limit one’s carbon footprint, Hoosiers can better understand their individual impact. Also, learning about ways to integrate green technology into Indiana companies can make an incredible difference. Instead of placing climate change on the backburner, small changes now will have profound positive impacts on the Hoosier state and overall help Hoosiers become more concerned with the issue of climate change.
 Francisco, Brian. “3rd District Rivals Sound off at Forum.” The Journal Gazette, 4 Oct. 2016, http://www.journalgazette.net/news/local/local-politics/3rd-district-rivals-sound-off-at-forum-15610761
 Armbruster, Ben. “Daniels: Climate Science is ‘Dubious,’ ‘Extreme Measures’ Advocated by ‘Zealots’ Won’t Address Global Warming.” ThinkProgress, 5 Apr. 2010, https://thinkprogress.org/daniels-climate-science-is-dubious-extreme-measures-advocated-by-zealots-won-t-address-global-ff6e632fc00e/
 Bowman, Sarah. “Hoosiers Concerned about Cleaning Waterways over Lowering Taxes, Poll Says.” Indianapolis Star, 24 Aug. 2017, https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2017/07/23/hoosiers-concerned-cleaning-waterways-poll-says/493994001/
 “What Climate Change Means for Indiana.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Aug. 2018, https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/climate-change-in.pdf
 Raymond Bradley, Ambarish Karmalkar, Kathryn Woods. “How will global warming of 2 degrees C affect Indiana?” Climate Change State Profiles Indiana. 2010, https://www.geo.umass.edu/climate/stateClimateReports/IN_ClimateReport_CSRC.pdf