Climate change comes home to South Dakota

Benjamin Schneider

If you were asked to name states where climate change is a pressing concern, South Dakota would probably not be the first that came to mind. Environmentalism is the province of coastal elites, the conventional wisdom goes. “Real Americans,” in the heartland or elsewhere, supposedly could care less.

If you cling to such notions yourself, you would do well to reconsider. Studies increasingly show residents in states far removed from the environmental movement’s coastal, liberal base are getting worried.

One such state is South Dakota. Time will tell if last week’s devastating blizzard will shift any South Dakotans feelings about climate change. But EDF happened to be conducting a poll in Sioux Falls just a few weeks before the storm hit. We found that:

  • 71 percent think that global warming is happening.
  • 60 percent were either somewhat or very worried about it.
  • 68 percent said climate change will harm crops a great or moderate amount, compared to 28 percent who said climate change will have little or no effect.
  • 53 percent recalled unusual weather events in their area in the previous 12 months.

To reiterate – we conducted this poll before the state was slammed by one of the worst storms it has ever seen. Numbers like these certainly don’t suggest South Dakotans uniformly share an abiding concern about climate change. But they also defy the common perception that you need to go to California or Vermont to find anyone who does.

It’s little wonder – Increasing numbers of polls suggest Americans are connecting the dots between extreme weather events and climate change. And last week’s disastrous blizzard, where South Dakotan ranchers were nearly helpless as 70 mile-per-hour winds and five feet of snow killed as many as 20,000 of their livestock, is a reminder that it isn’t just Americans on the coast who are coping with unprecedented conditions.

The environmental movement will continue to have a strong, bi-coastal presence. But it would be a great mistake to instinctively presume the rest of the country’s indifference.

See 5 comments