Why is Climate Change a political issue?


So, the other day while I was working, talking to people about a wind power program, I talked to a guy who was definitely not a like minded individual.  As soon as I explained what I was trying to do, he shouted “You mean those WIND FARMS that OBAMA forced through, and wastes all the taxpayers money?”  He went on to explain that climate change was made up to gain political power, that there was no possible way that humans could effect the climate on a global scale, and that all of this renewable energy stuff was basically a scam.

I disagreed.

Now, this was not an argument, or an unpleasant conversation either.  He was polite, but firm (vehement I would say) in voicing his opinions.  He ended the conversation with “You’re a good guy for trying to do this, but I DON’T wish you luck.”  I told him to have a good day, and waved goodbye.  I actually enjoy conversations like this, because I like hearing opinions that are different from my own.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to actually debate this man, because I was representing my company, and didn’t want to create any bad feelings.

But as I walked away, the conversation stuck with me.  I’ve had several like it, and has left a nagging question in the back of my brain:  Why is Climate Change a political issue?

97% of scientists agree that our global climate is changing, and that humans are the cause of that.  That’s 97% of the smart people who spend their whole lives studying these things, i.e. the most informed people.  And virtually all of them say that this is fact.  And yet a huge group of average people say that they are wrong.  What other issue would the general public disagree with the vast majority of scientists?
Everybody knows that a good portion of Americans, like the man I spoke with, are climate change deniers, but why?  And what role does political leaning play in this question?

It is obvious that the political left believes in climate change and at least pays lip service to doing something about it.  Those on the right, however, face political shooting squads if they agree with the scientific community.  But why?  With this overwhelming scientific consensus, shouldn’t both sides agree that it is happening?  I mean, they could still fight about what to do about the problem if they wanted to!

NPR’s This American Life recently did a great episode about this very question, and put forth a plausible theory:  The left started the conversation, so the right had to oppose them.  The liberals, being on the cutting edge of the environmental movement decades ago, broke the story, and because of that took control of the rhetoric and assumed the moral high ground on the issue.  This backed the conservatives into a corner.  Could they just come out and agree with their opponents?  That would make them look weak.  And any liberal solution to the problem would certainly involve lots of regulation that would limit freedom and hurt businesses (as the right would frame it), so that set them up to be against it ideologically.  But that doesn’t change the near certainty of the science.  The whole point of science is to be completely objective, without an agenda.  But when those with political motives get a hold of science, watch out!

This American Life includes an interview with former South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis, who served in congress for many years as a very conservative congressman.  Then he voiced his belief in climate change (It’s disturbing that we even have to discuss ‘belief’ in climate change, does one have to ‘believe’ in gravity?).  He was called a traitor by his supporters, made an object of ridicule by his party, and then soundly defeated by a Tea Party Climate Change Denier opponent.  His story shows that it is political suicide for a conservative to even admit that the science on climate change is true.  It’s not like he suddenly jumped ship and became a liberal; he takes as conservative approach to solving the problem.  But it wasn’t enough to save his campaign.  The interview goes on to talk about how some conservative leaders may privately admit that the science completely backs the human caused Climate Change theory, but are unable to publicly declare this in fear of political backlash.  Of course, the fuel on this fire is the lobbying branch of the fossil fuel industries, which funnels millions towards anyone and everything that denies Climate Change.

But how can such a large part of the public be taken in by their campaign of denial and misdirection?  People are entitled to their own opinions, not their own facts.  And the fact is that 97% of studies that take a stance on the matter say Climate Change is happening, and that humans are the cause.

Many climate change deniers will proclaim with much certainty that “there is NO POSSIBLE way that humans could have that much impact on the environment”.  These are the people that point out that our climate has changed many times in the past, from hot to cold and back again.  What they fail to realize, however, is that there is always a cause of this.  In the early Archean period, around 2.5 billion years ago (If you don’t believe the Earth is that old, then that is an entirely different conversation) the atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide, with practically no oxygen.  Then how did we get to our current atmospheric make up?  Plants.  This was the period of the mega flora, plants propagated cross the globe and in the oceans, gobbling up the CO2 and spewing out O2.  Events like this show how species can have a direct, dramatic effect on the environment.

Don’t think humans can have the same sort of impact?  What about the great Dust Bowl?  In the thirties, a combination of drought and soil erosion (caused by farming in the North American Plains and removal of grasses) affected an entire continent, with dust storms blowing all the way to the east coast!  And there are more than twice as many people on the planet now, driving more cars and using more electricity.

I know these appeals to reason probably won’t change any Denier’s minds, seeing as reason seems to be a skill they are lacking.  But, I DO encourage those on the right that are reasonable to stand up and take a stand on climate change.  Feel free to try to take back the reigns of the conversation and tell us how you would approach the problem.  Just don’t shut your eyes and ignore the problem we can see all around us.

To the gentleman I spoke to the other day:  I respect your rights to your opinions, and thank you for sharing them with me, but I’m afraid you are misinformed.  You may see climate change as a political issue, but only because it’s been presented to you that way.

Oh, and by the way, I know for a fact that Al Gore DOES use renewable energy on his huge house, I know the guy who put up his solar panels.

And for every dollar that the government ‘wastes’ on subsidies for renewable energy projects, they spend $5 dollars subsidizing fossil fuels. (My post on that here)

These are the facts.


Note:  If you read the source story from the Washington Post, you will notice that the study they are reporting about showed that 66% of the climate change studies they examined did not take a stance on whether it was cause by humans or not.  This does NOT mean that 66% were not sure one way or the other, it means that 66% of the studies did not even talk about whether climate change is being cause by man.  Out of the percentage that did discuss that point, 97% said it is man made. Please do not write in saying that this proves scientists disagree, just look at how they arrived at the numbers.  Feel free to write in if you have something useful to contribute!