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The Politics of Climate Change

Four years ago the issue of climate change did not come up even once in the three presidential debates between President Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.

climate seriesThe climate change topic was ignored despite the fact that scientists had linked a very warm Arctic to that October’s superstorm--Hurricane Sandy. Nor was the topic mentioned despite the severe drought that was plaguing the Middle East, a situation that a National Academy of Sciences report says contributed to the Syrian refugee crisis. Thus, they concluded that the refugee crisis was partially attributable to human influences on the climate system.

It still remains to be seen whether climate change will become an issue in this election cycle, even though there is a wide partisan polarization between the two major political parties on not only whether climate change is occurring, but also on whether human activities are to blame if it is.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 59 percent of Americans believe the effects of global warming (climate change) have already begun. But there is a wide gap between those who identify with Republicans and those who identify with Democrats. Only 30 percent of Republicans believe the effects have already begun, compared to 89 percent among Democrats.

The same numbers hold true for whether current global warming is due more to human activities: 29 percent of Republican and 90 percent of Democrats.

Even more interesting is the gap between the two groups over whether the media is exaggerating the seriousness or impact of global warming in news stories: 72 percent of Republicans believe the media is exaggerating, compared to only 7 percent of Democrats.

But what would a debate sound like if these two differing viewpoints were put on stage for all to see?

Question: Is climate change a settled science?

Republicans: No. “People with a conflict of interest have manufactured a climate crisis.” (Wall Street Journal)

Democrats: Yes. “Peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) And the only conflict of interest is that of fossil-fuel providers, who attempt to obscure the science because they stand to lose billions if we switch to other non-polluting energy sources.

Question: Should we take action to mitigate climate change?

Republicans: We shouldn’t. It is a costly solution for a problem that is not proven. “Even the Obama administration admits that its coal plans will cost many billions but have no meaningful impact on climate even a century from now.” (National Review)

Democrats: “The EPA says cutting fossil fuel generation will be worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion in 2030, compared to annual costs of about $8.8 billion. Secondly, none of this puts a price on the avoidance of up to 6600 premature deaths and 140,000 asthma attacks in kids the EPA says the cuts will deliver—because you can’t put a price on suffering.” (Desmog)

Question: Is human activity contributing to climate change?

Republicans: If you believe that climate change is happening, how do you distinguish between man-made and natural causes of climate change? “There is too much uncertainty and doubt about the models and the amount of warming they project.” (Wall Street Journal)

Democrats: “It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and nitrous oxide.” (American Meteorological Society)


Jim Arwood
Communications Director

Arizona Solar Center

Question to comment on: Is climate change happening now, and if so are human activities to blame?

An erosion of principled responsibility
We are all frogs