Caribbean residents see climate change as a severe threat but most in US don’t — here’s why

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A report by Elizabeth J. Zechmeister and Claire Q. Evans for Salon.

During the 2017 Atlantic basin hurricane season, six major storms — all of which were Category 3 or higher — produced devastating human, material and financial devastation across the southern United States and the Caribbean.

Last year’s above-average storm activity was foreseeable. Hurricane intensity ticked up in 2016 and scientists have predicted this trend will hold as global temperatures continue to rise.

Though people in the U.S. and the Caribbean share this increasing vulnerability to hurricanes, they hold very different opinions about the severity of climate change. According to results from the latest Vanderbilt University AmericasBarometer survey, a strong majority of Caribbean residents perceive climate change as a “very serious” problem. In contrast, just 44 percent of the U.S. public does.

Why the difference of opinion? Our research identifies two key factors: politics and risk perception.

Climate change is a partisan issue in the US

The AmericasBarometer is a biennial survey conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project. The latest round was conducted between 2016 and 2017 in 29 countries across the Americas.

The 10 Caribbean countries surveyed include Haiti, Dominica and Barbuda, all hit hard by hurricanes in recent years. The survey found that between 56 percent and 79 percent of respondents in the Caribbean believe that climate change is a very serious problem for their country.

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Things look different in the United States, where the AmericasBarometer survey affirms prior research demonstrating that climate change is a partisan issue. More than three-quarters of individuals on the liberal side of the political spectrum reported that climate change is a very serious problem.

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