The Politics of Climate Change

By Susan Littlefield

If you are expecting to hear some climate-change realism from the crop of Republican presidential candidates, you may have a long wait.

In an October 4, 2011 Time Magazine website article, Bryan Walsh points out that belief in the science of climate change was not such a political issue as recently as the 2008 presidential election. But it sure is now. No current major Republican presidential candidate will stand squarely behind the findings of climate science. Instead we have candidates like Rick Perry stating that he doesn't think that ″manmade global warming is settled in science enough.″ As former president Bill Clinton pointed out recently, this puts the U.S. at odds with most of the rest of the international community or, as he bluntly put it, our denial of science makes Americans ″look like a joke.″

How did we get to this point? According to Walsh, ″belief in climate science has become less about the science than about establishing a cultural identity -- you're a denier or a believer depending on whether you're a Republican or a Democrat...It's insanity as a basis for a complex public policy.″ Riley Dunlop and Aaron McCright, sociologists who authored a chapter in the recently published The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, suggest that climate denialism has occurred in part because of a ″long-term, well-financed effort on the part of conservative groups and corporations to distort global-warming science,″ similar to the tactics employed by the tobacco companies to dispute the health dangers of smoking, by maintaining that the science is ″unsettled″ and more research is necessary before any action is taken.

But Bryan also points out that even those who acknowledge the science may still be deniers when it comes to accepting the changes that need to be made in order to deal with the threat that climate change poses. Just like losing weight or planning for retirement, he says, it is easy let immediate desires overwhelm long-term benefits. To deal with the enormous threat that global warming and climate change poses, we need to insist that our political leaders keep politics from distorting science so we can all face up to the big challenges ahead.

To read the entire article, go to Time Magazine.

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