Climate Change: No More Time for Denial and Delay
As of 2020, there is a 97 percent scientific consensus endorsing the position that humans are causing global warming via the greenhouse effect, which is the result of burning coal, gas, and oil for energy.
As of 2020, there is a 97 percent scientific consensus endorsing the position that humans are causing global warming via the greenhouse effect, which is the result of burning coal, gas, and oil for energy. The carbon released combines with the O2 in the air, creating an ever-increasing excess of CO2 which traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere. This excess heat is equivalent to that released by 400,000 Hiroshima bombs, accumulating in the environment around us each day. Predictably, this has resulted in a host of issues with effects that are just beginning to surface; the 20 warmest years on record in global history have occurred since 1990. By mid-century, as many as 30 to 50 percent of the total species found on Earth will have disappeared in a human-induced “sixth mass extinction.” In the next century, the rising sea levels will displace millions and cost the world $14 trillion as entire cities disappear beneath the water. Climate change is unequivocally the greatest problem our generation will face, so why on earth is climate denialism so pervasive, and how has it wormed its way into the tangle of red versus blue politics?
Climate change was not a political issue when it became public knowledge in the 1980s; on his campaign trail, Republican President George Bush Sr. insisted, “[saving the planet] can be done, and we must do it. Let’s not forget all that we [have] accomplished since America first concentrated its attention on preserving the environment under a Republican administration back in 1970.” However, oil companies, most significantly Exxon, began an advertisement campaign to encourage climate denialism by renting out newspaper ad space in order to support the fallacy that the scientific community was divided on the existence of manmade climate change. These actions are rendered particularly ridiculous given that Exxon’s team of scientists reported substantial evidence of the greenhouse effect as early as the late 70s. The researchers encouraged the company to switch to alternative sources of energy to avoid the effects they’d predicted, among them dangerous heatwaves and deadly floods, but instead, Exxon publicly insisted the evidence was “ambiguous” while quietly building drilling platforms slightly higher up to account for the rising sea levels they predicted. There was no genuine belief that climate science was fiction, just the need to suggest as much to the public. Many justify this as a necessary consequence of technological progress, but this perspective presents a very limited definition of “growth”; if the company truly wanted to be innovators instead of turning a short-term profit, they could have heeded their scientists’ warnings and pioneered alternate energy sources as early as the 70s.
In the 90s, Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, along with other oil companies, pressured Republicans to protect their economic interests, leading to President George Bush Jr. removing CO2 from the government list of pollutants and politicizing climate change. Media doubled down on trumpeting the “lack of complete scientific certainty” surrounding global warming, causing mass misinformation and political division. The result? By 2017, over 50 percent of Americans held the erroneous impression that “the effects of global warming [were] exaggerated.” As schools started to prioritize education on the topic and the encroaching effects of climate change become increasingly visible, it’s increasingly obvious that we have been slow in addressing a global issue largely due to baseless denialism.
We’re already two decades late in addressing these problems, and the physical effects are already ruining livelihoods across the globe. Individuals can most effectively combat climate change by using our means to affect legislation. Vote for potential presidents, representatives, and governors who prioritize climate change and present concrete plans for a solution. Additionally, join Greta Thunberg’s rallying cry and find other ways of putting pressure on elected officials via petitions and protests; at the end of the day, it is our responsibility to hold governments accountable.
Finally, although climate denialism has become tangled in politics, the history shows that climate change is not inherently a partisan issue; our values often differ on who deserves to enter the country or who taxation policies should be benefiting, but I think we can all agree that we don’t want a quarter of the planet to become near-uninhabitable in the next century. There is little reason for Republicans to deny climate change; GOP social values include purity—which logically extends the environment—and, quite literally, conservation. What could be more conservative than an interest in preserving the forests and oceans that make up our natural world or, particularly, the famous geographical features and natural parks that make the U.S. what it is?
Indeed, President Trump’s once-foremost challenger for the 2020 Republican nomination, Bill Weld, was one of the most outspoken critics of Trump’s inaction, citing this as one of the primary reasons he intended to challenge the current incumbent. He emphasized, “The Republican Party can not put its head in the sand on climate change.” Additionally, young conservatives are pushing the party toward strong climate action, noting that it is imprudent to focus on short-term economic interest at the expense of future opportunity. It is fair to say that the Republican party has more progress to make as a whole when it comes to climate change denialism. However, to assume that Republicans match their views on climate change to those the current president espouses is not only erroneous, but potentially dangerous. Climate change is not an issue that can and should be subject to partisanship; it goes into our very survival as a species. If we promote climate action as a left-only policy, our politicization of these environmental issues will ultimately jeopardize the interests of elephants and donkeys (both the political and literal) alike.