Why Climate Change is Political

Bill Nye protests for action  on climate change. // Credit: The Washington Post.

Bill Nye protests for action on climate change. // Credit: The Washington Post.

Here are some facts: 1) Climate change is real, and Earth’s atmosphere is warming. 2) Human beings are the primary cause of this warming. 3) Scientists have studied global warming and its causes and have overwhelmingly agreed upon facts 1 and 2.

Don’t take it from me. A 2013 study by Cook et al. reviewed 11,944 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals considering anthropogenic global warming and found that 97.1% of the articles that take a position on climate change concluded that humans are causing global warming. This is not fake news. This is not an alternative fact. This is a scientific truth. In fact, this analysis “indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on [anthropogenic global warming] is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.” (As an aside, it really isn’t that hard to find this information. I completed one Google search and clicked on the first link. Wake up America.) So why is climate change still an issue in American politics?

 

A Partisan Issue?

Surprise, surprise! Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on whether or not climate change is our fault! According to the Pew Research Center, just 15% of conservative Republicans believe Earth is warming mostly due to human activity as opposed to the 79% of liberal Democrats that do. But this isn’t just a problem with the general population. In Congress, over 56 % of Republicans are climate change deniers.

For instance, Rep. Don Young of Alaska thinks that climate change “is the biggest scam since the Teapot Dome.” According to his own website, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN) thinks it’s the “greatest scam in history.” Lou Barletta (PA-11) isn’t “convinced that there’s scientific evidence that proves [it].” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said, “I don’t necessarily think the climate’s changing, no.” Mike Enzi of Wyoming doesn’t appear to know the difference between weather and climate and claims “I barely made it back here because of a May snowstorm in Wyoming. They got 18 inches in Cheyenne. It’s a little hard to convince Wyoming people there’s global warming. We have 186 percent of normal snowpack. That’s global warming?”

But why? Why do the majority of Republicans (and zero Democrats) in Congress deny climate change? If Earth is so important to us and the science is so clear, who could possibly benefit from its destruction? Ahhh, yes…oil and gas companies.

Logically, since oil and gas companies release the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, they are the most likely to be affected by environmental protections, so they lobby Republicans who are known for being anti-regulation to vote in ways that would protect their interests. In terms of donations to Congressional political campaigns since 2000, Republicans have received $168.3 million and Democrats have received $37.4 million. The oil and gas lobby is enormously powerful because of its deep pockets, and many congressmen and women would likely not be where they are without these big companies.

 

Or an American Issue?

As sad as it is that only 15% of Republicans and only 79% of Democrats believe in climate change, it is even more depressing that only 48% of American adults believe that the Earth is warming due to human activity despite living in the country that ranks second on the list of countries that burn the most fossil fuel.

Frankly, it’s sad that anybody would deny scientific fact, regardless of party. In my opinion, if you don’t know anything about a certain topic, and there is more than an overwhelming consensus (97%) among the people who have devoted their lives to studying that topic, you should probably trust their judgment, but this is not the case. Unfortunately, only 33% of American adults think climate scientists know whether or not climate change is occurring, and only 28% believe climate scientists know the causes of this change. On the bright side, Pew says that “the 36% of Americans who are more personally concerned about the issue of global climate change, whether they are Republican or Democrat, are much more likely to see climate science as settled, to believe that humans are playing a role in causing the Earth to warm, and to put great faith in climate scientists.”

 

Nerds of DC, Unite!

Last weekend, scientists were fed-up with being ignored, so they marched on Washington (and in other cities all around the world). The first and hopefully only March for Science took place on Earth Day, April 22nd, and was attended by about 15,000 people.

About 120 Hoyas and I suited up in our “Science, Not Silence” t-shirts and walked to the Washington Monument to march to the Capitol. Throughout the morning, undeterred by the rain, speakers from varying backgrounds, including Bill Nye, spoke about the importance of science in public policy and condemned the Trump administration’s attitude towards science and climate change. Trump’s dismissal of climate change as a hoax, the nomination of a climate change denier to head the EPA, the removal of the word “science” from the EPA Office of Science and Technology’s mission statement, and the signing of an executive order undoing much of Obama’s work on climate change exemplify the administration’s anti-science actions.

Despite the rain and cold, the march was an exciting experience, and it was fun to spend time with my fellow science nerds, letting the president know that his alternative facts are not welcome and the opinions of his advisors don’t count as peer review.

Just one week later, an estimated 200,000 people participated in the People’s Climate March, a broader movement aimed to tackle climate change from a social and scientific perspective. The People’s march reminds us that climate change affects not only our planet and natural resources, but also our livelihoods, our health, and our children.

 

“It’s in our hands”

“Science in America,” a recent video featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, describes the status of science in the United States and the problems facing science as a whole. I highly recommend that you watch this video immediately, but if you really don’t want to, here are a few highlights:

“It seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not, what is reliable and what is not reliable, what should you believe, what should you not believe, and when you have people who don’t’ know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”

“One of the great things about science is that it is an entire exercise in finding what is true.”

“[Science] does it better than anything else we have ever come up with as human beings.”

“This is science! It’s not something to toy with! It’s not something to say ‘I choose not to believe E = mc2.’ You don’t have that option! When you have an established scientific emergent truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it, and the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us.”

“Once you understand that humans are warming the planet, you can have a political conversation about that.”

“Every minute one is in denial, you are delaying the political solution that should’ve been established years ago.”

“It’s in our hands.”

Indeed, it really is in our hands. We have the power to reverse what we are doing to our home, but we need to act now.

 

Nonpartisan but Political

Climate change should be a nonpartisan issue. Science is true whether you believe it or not, and it is important that Republicans and Democrats protect science and use the valuable information and tools that science provides in order to make our lives better and to legislate for a better America and a better world. Though climate change is a nonpartisan issue, it is very much a political issue. We need political solutions to the problems that we are facing. Legislation is the easiest way to cut down on carbon emissions, and diplomacy is the best way to get other polluters like China and India to follow.

The reality of the situation is that anybody who denies the existence of climate change, anybody who denies humanity’s responsibility for this change, and anybody who denies humanity’s responsibility to reverse climate change is choosing to ignore scientific truth. When they speak out about their skepticism, they are intentionally misleading the public with their ignorance. With the March for Science, a large number of individuals educated on the topic stood up for truth, evidence, and the scientific method.

Here are some facts: Climate change is real. It began over 60 years ago, and it is happening right now. Humans are responsible for this change. Human beings’ excessive release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere has contributed to the warming of Earth’s atmosphere. As humans, we have a responsibility to reverse this change, and if we don’t, we will destroy Earth, our only home, even in an incomprehensibly large universe.

Jack Ryan