A Political Climate

by: Blaine Skrainka

September 19, 2011

Timely solutions to the climate change crisis at times appear overwhelmingly difficult given our modern political arena and public discourse. Steady streams of misinformation have provided fodder for deniers to reinforce their entrenched views on the subject.

We have long known that the rates of emissions from industry, agriculture, and transportation, among other factors, have led to increases in average global temperatures. We rely on carbon based fuels for 85 percent of our energy needs. It is now becoming increasingly evident that an augmentation of the hydrologic cycle due to global warming makes greater the likelihood of extreme weather events.

Despite the mounting evidence that climate change is in fact real and caused by human activity, prevarications have distorted truth. Despite the impending global environmental, political and social threats, apathy has trumped action.

When seeking a political consensus for a plan of action, it is important to examine who remains unconvinced and why they are apprehensive to implement a comprehensive solution. The demographic group in question in the United States falls largely under the banner of the Republican Party; especially their subsidiary Tea Party who has gained a disproportionate share of influence in recent years. The Economist recently reported that polling by researchers at Yale University show that only around one third of Tea Party members believe in global warming, while around 80 percent of those same people consider themselves fairly or very informed on the subject. To put this in context, this group is by far the most likely to deny climate change and the most confident in their assertions. A majority polled also are satisfied that they need no further information to form a firm opinion.

Sociologists at Michigan State and Oklahoma State Universities similarly find that, “conservative white males are significantly more likely than other Americans to endorse denialist views … and that these differences are even greater for those who self-report understanding global warming very well.” The researchers suspect that a desire to maintain the status quo motivates the dismissals and leads these people to seek out information that affirms the beliefs that they already hold.

So what informs and bolsters these entrenched views? As The WILD has already discussed, private special interests spend copious amounts of money to finance inherently biased studies and draft legislation. A somewhat more accountable voice of dissent comes from our own political leaders. Here are some notable examples:

There are a substantial amount of scientists who have manipulated data.”
-Rick Perry, Governor of Texas and front-runner in the Republican Presidential primaries

“Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is. I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans. What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to.”
-Mitt Romney, Former Governor of Massachusetts and Republican Presidential Candidate

The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.”
-John Boehner, Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives

But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can’t say with assurance that man’s activities cause weather changes.”
-Sarah Palin, Former Governor of Alaksa, 2008 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee, Fox News Contributor. She has also called studies supporting global climate change a “bunch of snake oil science.”

The sad reality is that consumer choices alone will not curb carbon emissions anywhere close to the necessary rates to reverse or even significantly slow global warming. We need a strong and comprehensive legislative policy to create real change. It is hard to envision how this will come about any time soon when propaganda campaigns by the world’s worst polluters are reinforced by politicians who engage in tactics such as re-branding Cap & Trade, a market-driven policy, to Cap & Tax, a politically-charged pejorative. The climate change crisis provides a great Litmus test for political candidates because it shows their capacity to analyze critical real world issues, as well as their willingness and ability to create innovative and effective solutions. As members of a global community, we should strive to live sustainable lifestyles, but we must also choose wisely those who make the big decisions.

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