Climate Change Nebraska

Nebraskans Agree Climate Change is Real

Overwhelming majority of Nebraskans conclude: climate change is real - and it's a serious threat

By: Libby Seline

Slightly more than seven in 10 Nebraskans believe climate change is real and happening now while about six in 10 favor replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

The findings are from a comprehensive Bureau of Sociological Research survey measuring the opinions of Nebraskans on climate change issues in the wake of last year’s devastating floods.

The November 2019 Nebraska survey showed that citizens in the overwhelmingly conservative, Republican state shared opinions about the impact of climate change on their communities that are similar to nationwide polls.  

A Pew Research Poll, also published in November 2019, showed that 62% of Americans believe climate change is impacting their neighborhoods and 77% want to invest in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.

Both polls also expressed concern about the potential damage from a changing climate.

About nine in 10 Nebraskans are concerned to some degree that flooding and droughts will impact the state’s most important sector: agriculture.

However, the poll also revealed that Nebraskans still remained true to their conservative beliefs. Almost half — 48% — do not believe climate change is caused by human activity while 60% either don’t believe or are unsure if climate change is related to the state’s most recent flooding. But a majority agree that the weather is impacting the state.

“The climate is changing whether people believe it or not,” John Hansen, president of Nebraska’s Farmers Union, said. “But the significant thing is that an overwhelming majority of Nebraskans — especially in agriculture who deal with nature on a much more intimate basis and in a year-round way — understand that the weather’s changing.”

In response to the survey’s results, Gov. Pete Ricketts said through a spokesperson that the climate is always changing 

“Right now, the Governor is focused on helping the state repair damage from last year’s flooding, and to make sure we are as prepared as possible for any future events,” Taylor Gage said in an email. 

State climatologist Martha Shulski said climate change will continue to impact future events in Nebraska — specifically in rising flood insurance premiums and health problems, including a spike in asthma. 

Several state senators, she said, have asked her whether climate change will produce winners and losers.

“Oh yeah, there’s a small percentage that will win temporarily in this,” Shulski said. “But on the whole, this is going to be costly, impact economics, health, all aspects of our lives are going to be impacted.”

Last year, severe weather cost the state $3.4 billion in damages, and the governor’s proposed budget set aside $60 million to go toward federal disaster relief payment.

In the wake of that damage, several Nebraska state senators have introduced bills related to flooding or the climate to help mitigate their effects.

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks has a current bill before the legislature designed to create a climate change action plan. To appease her colleagues, Pansing Brooks said she has to choose her words carefully — relying on terms such as “weather preparedness” or “flood mitigation” — to help create support for her bills.

“We believe in climate change,” Pansing Brooks said. “But what good does it do us to stand in the corner and stomp our feet and say, ‘You must believe the way they believe?’

“So I really hope that as this goes along, people can understand the need to change the discussion. And it doesn’t hurt to say, ‘Look at this: These weather patterns have been increasingly more frequent, and they have been more severe. What should we do about that?’”

Venango Sen. Dan Hughes, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, has introduced a bill related to flood protection bonds. The senator believes his experience as a farmer gives him insight on the weather’s devastating impacts, and he is concerned about future droughts and floods. That said, he does not believe storms, floods and droughts can be prevented. 

“We’ve always had catastrophic events because Mother Nature, that’s what the planet does, that’s the way it works,” he said. “And to think you can control that is having a pretty high opinion of yourself.”

The views of Pansing Brooks, a liberal senator from Eastern Nebraska, and those of Hughes, a conservative senator from Western Nebraska, closely align with a number of the survey results.

Political party lines, for example, remain sharply divided on the issue of climate change. The state survey revealed that about 98% of Nebraska liberals believe in climate change, while only 53% of conservatives did — and only 31% of those who said they are very conservative.

Do you think climate change is happening?

Additionally, about 93% of Nebraska liberals said they believe humans cause climate change, but only 32% of conservatives agreed with them — while just 15% of the very conservative did. 

Do you think that climate change is mostly caused by human activity?

However, 86% of moderate Nebraskans believe in climate change and 63% said they also believe it’s man-made.

Across the political spectrum, many Nebraskans said they are concerned — at least to some degree — about the potential impact of droughts and flooding on agriculture, including 98% of liberals, 84% of conservatives and 70% of the “very conservative.”

How concerned are you that increased flooding and prolonged droughts and heat waves could have a profound effect on Nebraska's agriculture?

Although there is widespread concern about more floods, like last spring’s, there remains sharp disagreement over whether those floods are climate-related. 

Kim Morrow, who’s in charge of Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird’s environmental task force, said it’s often difficult to attribute specific weather events to climate change. But given the increasing amount of extreme weather, she said there’s no question in her mind that the two are related.

“In the state, the temperatures have been increasing and overall precipitation levels have been increasing. And so you definitely see a trend that indicates more flooding events,” she said.

“In the state, the temperatures have been increasing and overall precipitation levels have been increasing. And so you definitely see a trend that indicates more flooding events,” she said.

Don Wilhite, emeritus state climatologist and drought management specialist, agreed that it’s impossible to directly attribute wildfires and flooding to climate change. But climate change is increasing the severity of extreme weather.

As droughts, floods and hurricanes become more frequent, he said, “there’s more devastation associated with these events.

Is there a connection between climate change and the recent severe flooding in Nebraska?

Meanwhile, communities across the state — including Lincoln — are dedicated to combating climate change and exploring renewable sources of energy. 

Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning said his city is dedicated to wind energy research. Additionally, Norfolk is home to the state’s largest community solar project. Moenning said he would like Nebraska to be more invested in clean energy and regenerative agriculture.

“If we’re really going to be a participant in the new economy and be a place where young people are proud to stay at home and we can attract youth, we need to be more innovative in public policy making,” Moenning said.

As a way to help create a cleaner environment, Ricketts is promoting ethanol production. Gage, his spokesman, cited a 2012 study that found 30% of ethanol blends used in flexible fuel engines reduced particulate matter and black carbon emissions by 45%.

Across the street from the governor’s mansion, Sen. Pansing Brooks said she hopes the data from this statewide survey will impact legislators and convince senators that climate change will affect future generations.

State Sen. Hughes, meanwhile, said he remains concerned about the cost and reliability of renewable energy and wants to listen to climate scientists who believe humans do not cause climate change.

“In this job, we need to deal with facts,” said the chair of the Natural Resources Committee. “… I have to make my own decisions. I have to rely on my own experiences plus the facts that I gather.”

To move the needle on climate change, the head of the Nebraska Farmers Union said he’d like to see the pace of both knowledge and effort pick up.

“We need more hands on deck,” Hansen said. “We need more folks helping. We need more folks thinking. We need more young folks stepping up. The conventional wisdom is getting better, but it’s not moving forward as fast as it needs to be.”

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