Ivey Noojin

Ivey Noojin is an editorial intern at The American Prospect.

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Why Doesn’t South Carolina Care About Climate Change?

Democrats in South Carolina do not prioritize climate change as much as Democratic voters in other 2020 primary and caucus states do, according to a new survey published by the Environmental Defense Action Fund.

And three major hurricanes since 2016 and several devastating floods apparently have not convinced Palmetto State progressives either, much less Democrats who tend to be more conservative than their counterparts in other early primary states.

An overwhelming majority of Democrats in New Hampshire, Nevada, California, and Iowa (80 percent and higher) say they are “more likely to support candidates who back the Green New Deal and favor 100 percent clean energy sources by 2050.” In South Carolina, that figure is slightly lower.  

Meanwhile, Iowa, the other Republican state in the survey, has the highest percentage of voters (at 88 percent for the Green New Deal and 87 percent for clean energy by 2050) who are likely to prioritize climate change as the presidential campaign season progresses.

South Carolinians do not deny the reality of climate change: Only 3 percent of the state’s voters deny its existence, according to a poll published by Winthrop College in December. Rather, South Carolinians don’t believe climate change is a major priority. They like to imagine that the crisis doesn’t affect them and that the state hasn’t experienced any of the consequences yet.

But South Carolina is on the front lines of the climate crisis. A Climate Central study found that floods that used to happen once every 100 years now happen every 11 years, the number of days with dangerously high temperatures is increasing, and mosquitoes are multiplying faster and spreading diseases for more than half the year—the biggest increase since the 1980s. Sea-level rise is higher than the global average.

Even though these developments might be hard to detect, there devastating effects of climate change are everywhere in South Carolina. Historic floods have ruined agricultural fields and roads, destroyed homes, and killed loved ones.  

So why isn’t everyone on board with mitigating climate change? Perhaps because people worry about other issues more. Southerners overall care more about immigration, with political corruption and racism rounding out the top three key issues for the region, according to a December survey by Winthrop College. Environmental policies do not even make the list. Climate change is also low on the list of national public policy priorities: A January Pew Research Center survey found that climate is near the bottom of key issues for Americans, as it has been for nearly a decade, along with global trade and improving transportation.