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Report: Climate Change May Hit States That Voted For Trump The Hardest

February 4, 2019 1:22 p.m.

GUEST: David Victor, co-director of Laboratory on International Law and Regulation, UC San Diego

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Related Story: Report: Climate Change May Hit States That Voted For Trump The Hardest


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

There's no question climate change is happening but now a new study suggests those areas that voted for President Donald Trump may be hit hardest in the pocket by global warming. The study was conducted by the Brookings Institution and UC San Diego. David Victor who contributed to this study is a researcher at UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. He is joining me now with more on what this study means. David welcome. It's nice to be here. Tell us more about the correlation between the areas that voted for President Trump and other conservative politicians who oppose climate change policy and the areas of the country that could be hardest hit by climate change.

Well it's very clear that the places in the country that are on the frontlines of climate change and these are effects like storm surges from hurricanes a reduction in productivity crops heat stroke. That's the biggest one that they've tended actually to vote Republican. And it's interesting because they've been voting into office people who are adopting policies that are exactly contrary to their interests and in the last presidential campaign 16 of the 20 most vulnerable states all voted for Republican four for Donald Trump.

So how does that compare to left leaning states.

Well that for a long time people thought about the politics of climate change as thinking about what are the incentives to control the emissions that cause global warming. And those places tend to be correlated with the blue states places that vote Democrat they tend to be urban areas they tend to be on the coasts. These are the places that are doing more on renewable energy and so in some sense those places that need to control their emissions are already doing a lot. And and telling them more about climate change is preaching to their already converted.

The reason we did this study is because we thought that focusing more on the harm of climate impacts would actually be a better strategy for identifying swing states swing voters who who don't frankly know how exposed they are and as they learn more might be more willing to adopt a smarter climate policies.

And what about San Diego what would be the global warming's economic toll here.

Well San Diego is quite exposed because the coastal area that particular study that we that we relied on looked at cyclones and so San Diego was not exposed so much from cyclones it's exposed from other kinds of storm surges El Niño. But to some degree heat stroke although frankly San Diego's weather is pretty amazing and it seems likely to continue to be amazing. I think it's interesting that we here in San Diego are among the leaders in the country and in thinking about climate change responding to climate change and what we need to do is help convince more the other places like along the Gulf Coast and Florida Alabama and so on to come along and do more of what we're doing already here.

And what's the timeline of all this how soon could the economic impacts of climate change be felt.

Well the study that we worked with was looking out at the end of the century and so that's not here right now and we don't expect that that this kind of data is going to change American politics overnight. All that said there are other studies that now show that at least statistically some of the things we're observing are are likely to be caused by climate change some of the excess heat some of the wildfires that we're seeing California and other places. And so statistically the evidence is there. Australia is in the middle of massive weather extremes right now that are probably linked to some degree to climate change.

So so that data come in but it's still statistical data and that doesn't change people's visceral feeling about climate change and therefore the way they think about this politically.

And you conducted this study in partnership with the Brookings Institution. How did you go about it.

Well we worked very closely with a group called the Climate Impact Lab several the scientists are here in California at Berkeley University Chicago a variety of other places. And so we worked with their projections for a future climate impacts and what we did that's new is map all that on top of voting behavior voting behavior in 2016 and also voting behavior in the last House election. It's interesting that in the last house election that the districts that voted Republican have almost twice the exposure to climate impacts as districts that voted Democrat.

So what does all of these what does all of this mean for the future of U.S. policy on climate change.

Well I think it means it means a couple of things first of all I think it means that that activists need to pay much more attention to the impacts of climate change in Republican leaning districts in swing states because we have not really had a meaningful federal policy on climate change for a long time and we're not going to tackle the problem to its full extent without a federal policy without global leadership and that's gonna require really working in the middle of the country in swing states Florida Texas North Carolina a variety of other places.

The I think I think it means is that places that lead like San Diego like California more generally really need to pay a lot closer attention to followership and sometimes the leaders are all talking to each other and all thrilled with each other's actions. But we're gonna make progress on this the global problem we're gonna make progress on it only to the extent that we get others to follow all right because I want to ask you know the Trump administration doesn't believe climate change exist.

You know do you think that what voters are actually experiencing in their real everyday lives could outweigh the current administration's distrust of scientific fact.

You know it's hard to tell what the Trump administration believes because the president believes one thing one day and something else another day and then the administration is a complex collection of individuals. But I think what really matters is what the electorate thinks that Trump administration is unlikely to adopt an aggressive climate policy.

But if more people in the middle of the American political spectrum start to believe that's what political scientists call the median voter if more of them start to ask for this kind of action then you're going to see even a place like Florida.

The policy is starting to change and that's going to happen from the bottom up. I think it's interesting that the Trump administration has announced a whole series of regulatory rollbacks.

And if anything that has inspired more states to do more including here in California.

I want to ask you about another topic altogether on our program today. We spoke with the former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Greg yachts Co. He said the spent nuclear fuel shouldn't be stored along the coast and that he believes that expediency and cost are the reasons for storing it at its current location instead of finding an optimal location to store the fuel. As someone who also sits on the panel that is overseeing the decommissioning of San Onofre how would you respond to that.

Well I think it's important that we get the spent fuel out of the set enough for a site as expeditiously as safely and as responsibly as possible. But I don't see the profit motive or expedience driving this they're right now under federal law there's only one place to put it. There's only one license and that's where it's going. And so we need to be realistic about our real options and I'm very concerned that people are pretending that there are other options like moving into a military base or moving into California or some other place and that's distracting us in here in Southern California from doing what we need to do which is to get the spent fuel into these canisters safely and get a change in federal law to make it possible to move it out of here.

I've been speaking with David Victor with UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy David. Thanks so much for joining us.

Well it's my pleasure.