Republican voters' disproportionate vulnerability to extreme weather events could stimulate spending on climate action, researchers argue in a new policy paper.
Republicans may generally express doubt with regards to the impacts of climate change, but they are also more likely to experience the most serious effects — including flooding and wildfires, per the paper, published in the journal Political Science & Politics.
And, although decision-makers in GOP-led states have withdrawn their support for clean energy, the authors found the same states are among the biggest producers of renewables nationwide. About 38 percent of U.S. clean energy is located in the Republican-led states of Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, they noted.
This proliferation of renewables in so-called red states is in part due to the states' natural wind and solar resources, the authors said. But they assert it could also be a testament to the ability of markets to overcome politics amid the transition to a clean-energy economy.
“The evidence is thin that exposure to climate impacts has any long-term effect on attitudes about climate change,” co-author Megan Mullin, a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles, said in a statement.
“But it could spur investments in protections that will make a real difference for local communities,” added Mullin, who authored the paper with Patrick Egan of New York University.
When the climate crisis emerged about three decades ago on the political stage, Republicans and Democrats responded with similar amounts of concern, Mullin and Egan explained.
But climate change politics became susceptible to the impacts of polarization — particularly because Republican voters are concentrated in places and professions that depend on carbon-intensive industries, according to the authors.
With this increased polarization, however, has also come improved cohesion and meaningful climate action within the Democratic party, the researchers noted.
While the authors said GOP officials “have cast their lot with fossil fuels” while using renewables “as a scapegoat for energy-grid vulnerabilities,” they stressed that localized clean-energy booms are shifting the interests of certain firms and their employees.
“They have incentives to direct their ballots, lobbying efforts, and campaign donations to advance climate-related spending, investment, and regulations,” the researchers noted, pointing to the disproportionate impact of extreme weather events in Republican-led states.
Mullin and Egan cited the example of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has committed billions to wetland restoration and flood resilience, while also blocking policy initiatives for emissions reductions and avoiding any mention of climate change.
Although this approach likely disturbs climate advocates and does not contribute to mitigation efforts, it hints at a collaborative opportunity to protect the nation from climate change impacts, the authors argued.
“In Republican places, growth in clean energy and climate risk may spur policies that support renewable energy and reduce harm from extreme weather, even without recognition of climate change as a driver,” they added.