The Politics of Climate Change

Recently, on April 22, the world celebrated Earth Day to honor the planet that we call home. However, the preservation of the planet has become a highly relevant topic in the 21st century due to the alarming degradation of the environment, with a report by the United Nations predicting irreversible adverse effects from rising temperatures as soon as 2040. Although the population has slowly begun to recognize the reality of this global crisis, there has yet to be widespread action needed to avoid catastrophic consequences. Unfortunately, this nonpartisan problem has become highly politicized, rather than being treated as what it truly is: a human issue.  

There is a major divide in how different parties view the issue of climate change, and it predominantly depends on where they fall on the political spectrum. According to a study by Pew Research Center, over half of liberal Democrats have complete faith in what climate scientists tell the media and believe their solutions to be helpful. While there is a percentage of Republicans that also recognize the existence of climate change, a majority of them view the actions being taken to prevent global warming as unnecessary or incapable of causing any change. In the aforementioned study, Pew Research Center also found that 54% of Republicans believe that climate scientists’ findings are skewed to advance the careers of scientists in their particular fields. 

Why is there such a vast difference between the parties’ opinions on how to handle climate change? A big portion of the answer has to do with money. Fossil fuel and oil companies were alarmed when legislation that would cause them to lose business or profit in exchange for the preservation of natural ecosystems was introduced. Further, as a result of Citizens United vs. FEC, a Supreme Court decision that allows outside organizations or corporations to contribute uncapped amounts of money to elections, these companies were able to pour copious amounts of money toward candidates who worked to shut down bipartisan legislation in favor of reducing greenhouse gas emissions

But money is not the only reason for the historic lack of action. When it comes to the economy, the two parties have completely different approaches. Democrats think designing new laws that may have significant costs will pay off in the long run so that states will not suffer from the high demands that climate change is predicted to have in the future. Tied to the Citizens United ruling from 2010, Republicans think climate-centered legislation will have negative impacts on the economy. As a result, they often shoot down legislation that would lower the use of fossil fuels, choosing instead to support the oil industry. 

Another huge cause for the drastic partisan divide on this issue is the opinion created by party leaders and representatives. Riley Dunlap, a professor from Oklahoma State University, stated, “Voters take cues on their policy preferences and overall positions [from party leaders].” Therefore, the hegemonic ideologies presented in the parties’ stances on climate change have spread and become some of the most aggressive aspects of politicians’ platforms. 

The issue of climate change is quickly gaining traction as one of the most important issues to be dealt with on a global scale. Although it historically has been an issue of partisan divide, especially within the United States, this division could change in the future. The ideologies and influences of a newer and younger generation of voters are beginning to take hold in the political sphere. In fact, nearly 60 percent of Republicans between the ages of 23 and 38 say that climate change is having an effect on the United States. This percentage—compared to Republicans over the age of 52—is nearly doubled. Since young people are the voice of the future, their opinions on how to approach this issue are more relevant than the generations of the past. Despite the current standing of fixing climate change, there is hope to break the partisan divide over global warming and begin treating it with the urgency it deserves.