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9/13/19

Everyone agrees: rich countries have to help poor countries with climate change

Ask any demographic group, and most people will agree - rich countries need to help poor countries with climate change. That's what YouGov / Economist found in its latest poll:


These numbers indicate the difference between "agree" and "disagree" answers. Predictably, Democrats - and groups that have strong representation in the Democratic coalition, including Black and Hispanic respondents, women, and Millennials - provided the strongest agreement. But surprisingly, even groups at the other end of the spectrum - including Republicans - registered more approval than disapproval.

This consensus should come as welcome news to anyone concerned about climate change, since you can't fight climate change without massive transfers to poor countries. The problem has been neglected in many (though thankfully not all) of the Green New Deal proposals that we've seen so far - and one reason, I suspect, is that politicians think that voters just don't want the United States to pay for it.

There's never been much basis to that theory. US voters have long tolerated extraordinary spending in other countries through the DoS and the DoD. And when we do, we justify it by saying that what happens elsewhere can affect us in the US - or that we have a moral responsibility to intervene. The major difference is that in the case of climate change, the responsibility to intervene - and the consequences if we don't - are actually legitimate. Our history of pumping greenhouse gasses into the skies, often while violently looting poor countries of their fossil fuels, means that we owe them an enormous debt. And if we don't pay it, climate change will demonstrably become an intolerable problem for everyone.

What this poll tells us is that most people think are thinking about climate change in roughly the same way. Granted, we shouldn't read too much into it. For one thing, since politicians have avoided this issue, it hasn't become contentious yet - and as the fight for a Green New Deal moves forward, we should expect international climate finance to become increasingly politicized, which means that Republicans opposition will probably increase. For another, support for international transfers in principle may not mean support for adequate international transfers. After all, the US has already sent a billion to the Green Climate Fund; the task now is to ramp that up to hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

It's going to be an uphill fight - but if we can maintain this consensus that the US has a responsibility to help poor nations beat climate change, then we have a path forward.