Residents of shrinking US island reject 'climate victim' label

TANGIER ISLAND, Md, Oct 20 (Reuters) - This summer, a delegation of Republican climate activists visited Tangier Island, a speck of grassland in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, to try to convince its 450 residents to take climate change seriously.

At a dinner attended by island residents Aug. 2, the activists from RepublicEn headed by former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis laid out the stakes: The sea level is rising, and some scientists estimate that within decades the island, already suffering severe erosion, will need to be abandoned.

The people of Tangier Island were used to this kind of message. Former Vice President Al Gore, a prominent Democratic climate activist, had given the same speech to islanders three days earlier. They were also used to rejecting it.

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Tangier Island residents reject climate change
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Tangier Island residents reject climate change
Visitors swim in the waters along a sandbar on the south side of Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Tourists arrive by ferry to Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Destroyed crab shacks are seen in this aerial view over Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A shanty, once used to sort through crabs, lies destroyed on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Local islander Jim Shores lays out his crab traps to dry along a dock on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An islander speaks to former congressman Bob Inglis after a meeting at the Fisherman's Corner restaurant on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A cross stands in the marsh on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Local resident Wayne Crokett, 72, rides along Factory Road on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Tangier Island is photographed from the north side in this aerial view over Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A woman cycles past a house displaying a sign supporting U.S. President Donald Trump on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A cat sits on a porch on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Homes and businesses line Main Ridge Road in this aerial view over Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Local fisherman Rudy Shores sorts through soft shell crabs at his crab shack on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Soft shell crabs lie in a wooden box before they are sorted to be sold on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A tombstone lies submerged at the water's edge in the "Uppards" part of Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A seawall erected to prevent erosion is seen along the east side of Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Tangier Mayor James "Ooker" Eskridge is photographed during an interview at the Fisherman's Corner restaurant on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Wave breakers are seen along the "Uppards," part of Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Brandi Tuck of Yorktown searches for arrowheads in the "Uppards" part of Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Paige Tuck of Yorktown displays an arrowhead she found in the "Uppards," part of Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A duck decoy rests in a wooden box on a shanty on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A tombstone lies on a beach in the "Uppards," part of Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Visitors watch a short film at the Tangier History Museum on Tangier Island, Virginia, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif SEARCH "LATIF VIRGINIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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"We'll talk to everybody," said James Eskridge, mayor of the mainly Republican island community. "But they're not going to change many minds here." Residents, he said, do not believe in climate change: they want a new sea wall to prevent erosion, not a lecture about saving the world with solar panels.

Tangier Island's steadfast rejection of climate change reflects the rigidity of American opinions about global warming, often defined along political party lines.

Reuters/Ipsos polling shows more than a third of Americans, mainly Republicans, reject the scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activity. Less than a third of Americans believe global warming poses an imminent threat to the United States. These views barely budged after a series of devastating hurricanes this summer.

That rift in opinion has proven to be a headwind for U.S. lawmakers seeking broad solutions to stem climate change, like imposing a cost on carbon emissions or encouraging cleaner renewable energy technologies to replace fossil fuels.

And while conservatives have long been skeptical about climate change, doubters have a powerful new ally: U.S. President Donald Trump. He has called climate change a hoax and has started withdrawing the United States from a global pact to combat it, citing what he calls the huge economic cost.

Eskridge told Reuters Trump called him in June after seeing a report about severe erosion problems on the island, telling him not to worry about sea level rise.

"I believe man plays a part in it but not to the extent that others have been talking about - that's what me and Donald Trump were talking about," Eskridge said.

"WE'RE LOOKING TO STAY"

An Army Corps of Engineers study in 2015 showed Tangier has lost two thirds of its mass since 1850 because of erosion, a process scientists say is being exacerbated by climate change. Journalists and politicians now view the island as a symbol of the climate crisis.

Tangier residents are happy with the attention but believe their problem is simpler. A sea wall built on one side of the island in the late 1980s has prevented the land behind it from eroding, they say, so another sea wall is the answer.

"We're not looking to have our light bills cheaper, we're looking to stay here," said Deborah Pruitt, 57, who works at the island's museum, where printouts of news reports about the island are displayed on a wall.

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Climate change impact in Tangier, Virginia
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Climate change impact in Tangier, Virginia
A waterman sets out to set crab traps as the sun rises in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A grave stone rests on the beach where a cemetery once stood but has been washed away due to erosion in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge sets out to check his crab traps during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge feeds his cats as he checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Tabby Crockett (L) sells his peeler crabs to Mayor and waterman James Eskridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge's tattoo of the Jesus fish adorns his arm as he points out areas that have been completely eroded away in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An abandoned outboard boat motor sits against the man-made sea wall that was engineered by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 to prevent erosion in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun rises while a waterman passes crab shanties as he sets out for the day in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A cross stands at the mouth of the harbor reading 'Jesus is Life' in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Erosion eats away at the tip of the Uppards in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A grave stone rests on the beach where a cemetery once stood but has been washed away due to erosion in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Four-year-old Parker Shores walks down the middle of the street with his action figure toys in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Teenage boys play baseball on a dirt lot in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Danny Parks mans the fuel docks in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A waterman returns to the harbor with crab traps in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An area in the Uppards called Canaan where erosion has taken away what was once a settlement area with homes in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Army Corps of Engineers scientist Dave Schulte sits on the side of a boat as he rides out to check on current erosion to the Uppards in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge (L) speaks with waterman Rudy Parks (R) from the crab shanties in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge stands on the peir speaking with his son William Eskridge in the early morning before setting out for a day of crabbing in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Supports jet out of the water where crab shanties used to stand on a patch of land now surrounded by water in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat line and the shell of a crab sit on the pier in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
William Eskridge pulls just caught crabs from a bucket in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Crab trap buoys hang from a fence in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A crane flies away with a crab in its mouth in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The water of the Chesapeake Bay crashes against the man-made sea wall that was engineered by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 to prevent erosion in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Bruce Gordy (R) talks with fellow waterman Allen Crockett (L), Frank Pruitt (2L), Robert Crockett (3L), Mayor James Eskridge (C) and Richard Pruitt (2R) during a meeting called 'The Situation Room' to discuss ongoing local concerns in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Benjamin Eskridge (L) carries a crab trap as he helps his grandfather Allen Crocket (R) prepare for the next day of crabbing in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An abandoned crab trap rest on the beach surf in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets on a cross reading 'Christ is Life' on a waterway in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A submerged boats rests under a bridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
William Eskridge pulls just caught crabs from a bucket and his grandchildren look over his shoulder in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Richard Pruitt looks on a during a meeting called 'The Situation Room' held with other senior local waterman in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Swamp grass and standing water take over the front yard of a home in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets over houses on the West Ridge neighborhood in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets on a guard rail where love letters have been scribed on a bridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Conservative climate activists like Rob Sisson of ConservAmerica and Mitch Hescox of the Evangelical Environmental Network said the rejection of climate change by Tangier residents is not surprising: their groups often have trouble convincing fellow Republicans global warming is a real issue. Often, they say, people object to the idea that humans could possibly change the climate even if they wanted to.

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of a handful of Republicans to publicly declare a belief in climate change, said she has a strategy for getting fellow Republicans to think of solutions: "I've found that the best way ... is to not dwell on the causes," she said in an email.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and David Gregorio)

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