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Eileen Tchao

Mrs. Thyssen
27 March 2016
The Polarization of Climate Change: Not Just Affecting the Temperature
Climate change has affected the earth and its occupants in irreversible ways. Areas that
used to be abundant with certain creatures, resources, etc. are now barren, and the pollutants that
we humans have brought upon the natural habitats of animals and the poaching we have done of
animals and their resources have brought many species near or to extinction. The very makeup of
earths atmosphere has changed because of human activity. These are the facts. The type of
people that believe these facts and take stock in the science of climate change, however, differ
based on ideology. This is interesting; intuitively, if something is proven with the scientific
method and through other empiric research, one would tend to believe it. This is not the case
with climate change. Recently within the United States, a polarization has occurred between
liberal and conservative leaning people and their belief of climate change. This was not always
the case, and this paper will delve into the reasons why this polarization has happened and how it
is undermining any progress that could have been made on halting climate change and reversing
the deforestation, depletion, and damage that humans have dealt to the earth. Before the common
era of polarization in politics and pairing of acceptance of climate change with liberal thought,
science was respected for its facts and accuracy. Present day political agendas have hindered
progress in climate change prevention.
The race to space, for America, was a turning point for science. Because liberals and
conservatives alike wanted to surpass the USSR/Russia and because of the Cold War, science

that made American achievements more impressive than those of the Russians was greatly
welcomed. The government was pro-science and even acknowledged that climate change was
happening as early as 1930. But by the 1970s, the conservative party had begun to push an
antiregulatory agenda that became an umbrella which every aspect of life was shaded by. Science
was seen as regulatory rather than innovative, becoming conglomerated into the new
Republican party agenda of being anti regulation, and thus, becoming paired with liberal thought
incompatible with conservative ideals (Baker 1). This was the crux of the new Republican Party,
the new dawn of their current antiestablishment anti-regulatory anti big government spiel. Now,
since the conservatives had successfully paired all science with regulation because of their
fixation on the Environmental Protection Agency rather than other important scientific entities
such as NASA, conservatives saw science as the enemy: something to be feared and scrutinized
instead of revered and listened to. No longer were scientists experts in their field; instead, they
were just another interest group with interests that did not coincide with those of the conservative
coalition. This was the start of the present day polarization between democrats and republicans
about climate change. It has been proven through research that democrats tend not only to
believe in climate change as a direct result of human activity, but are also more educated as a
whole about the topic. Republicans show the opposite. In addition, in the studys words, the
effects of educational attainment and self-reported understanding on beliefs about climate
science and personal concern about global warming are positive for liberals and Democrats, but
are weaker or negative for conservatives and Republicans (Dunlap and McCright 21). This
environment has set the stage for the seemingly counterintuitive practices of parties concerning
global warming and climate change. As Clive Hamilton states,

In 1997 there was virtually no difference between Democratic and Republican voters in
their views on global warming, with around half saying warming had begun. In 2008,
reflecting the accumulation and dissemination of scientific evidence, the proportion of
Democratic voters taking this view had risen from 52 to 76 percent (Hamilton 1).
Essentially, politics has gotten in the way of science when this was not always the case. Science
used to be respected for what it was; now those who think scientists have ulterior motives have
bastardized it.
One may ask or assume that voters question all this political nonsense clouding up the
field of science and the facts of climate change. Unfortunately, this isnt really the case. Because
politicians and figures that are respected as experts or elites are skeptical about climate change
and still debate the facts of its existence, the population is confused. They dont know whether
to believe the scientists that conservatives claim have special interests and falsify information in
an alarmist fashion or to disbelieve the institution and the idea entirely. Thus, the population
tends to follow the politicians that they trust on this important issue. The population at large,
congress people, and even scientists themselves show partisan divide over whether they trust the
scientific communitys findings about climate change or not. Both scientists and congressional
staffers were more likely than the public to say that human-caused global warming is happening.
But ideology and party identification influenced beliefs across each of the three samples
although to a lesser extent among energy scientists compared to the public and staffers (Bolson,
Druckman, and Cook 1). This in itself is appalling. Scientists themselves are affected by the
politicization of climate change- no wonder why conservatives are confused, even when there is
a unanimous consensus among the scientific community about the scope and existence of climate
change. Even more appalling is the finding that as conservatives become more knowledgeable

about climate change, the less likely they are to believe in its direct causation by human activity.
(Bolson, Druckman, and Cook 2). We, as Americans, as people, have been pre-conditioned to
think a certain way about issues like global warming and climate change, abortion and same sex
marriage, gun control and birth control by our political alignment. This counterintuitive message,
set upon us by an individualistic society that teaches us that conformity to a certain group is
good, has stopped many from thinking logically about the issue and has made many listen to
those who are not experts on climate change. However, this phenomenon of downplaying climate
changes importance and debating its existence is not limited to just the United States.
In 2009, international leaders met in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss the implications of
climate change and to make an active commitment to slowing or stopping climate change
happening because of human activity. Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change unanimously urged world leaders to take drastic action and called for limiting the level
of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere to below approximately 450 parts per million, in order to
keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2c (Salehyan and Hendrix 1). While
world leaders considered these facts and very seriously hashed out the implications of human
activity and their correlation with global warming, not much was done in terms of policymaking.
Leaders such as President Obama and Prime Minister Blair made bold statements about the
importance of combatting climate change with new industry standards and new environmentally
friendly policies, but when it came down to it, these same leaders that so readily made statements
about the importance of the cause did little to nothing in terms of agreeing upon policies
indicative of the cause. No clear bold agreements were made internationally about curbing CO2
emissions or about making industry standards more environmentally friendly, much to the
chagrin of international climate change specialists and those who care about human impact on

the environment. The Copenhagen Accord promised to make drastic, bold changes in order to
combat the growing threat of climate change, but ended with a vague commitment to limit
global warming to 2C and to make necessary emissions cuts, although there was no binding
enforcement mechanism for doing so (Salehyan and Hendrix 32). Furthermore, developed
countries pledged to give money to less developed countries to help them combat and adapt to
climate change and governments would publically announce nonbinding targets and plans to
limit carbon emissions (Selehyan and Hendrix 33). The accord was altogether weak and vague,
but the international community patted itself on the back for taking steps to solve the problem,
even though it did next to nothing of the sort.
What can be done about this growing problem? Why has every single politician shunned
taking the drastic measures needed to combat this issue? These are questions that one may ask
themselves about climate change. One of two questions are easily answered. Politicians, unless
they are from the Green Party or some other one issue party only concerned about the
environment, have bigger issues to worry about, such as their own re-electability, the economy,
and Wall Street. Because it is unlikely that one politician alone, including the president, can pass
the drastic measures needed to combat climate change without stepping upon other interests that
they have themselves, let alone have congress, lobbyists, and other constituents not block them
every step of the way. The other question is not so easily answered. In order for anything to be
done by the government on a large scale, accountability for governmental promises must happen.
Scientists and other constituents and even citizens must hold the governments of the world, not
just America, accountable for their promises to help reduce emissions and lessen human impact
on the environment. Scientists must be believed. In order for this to happen, the IPCC must

further consolidate its resources and do more research and studies on human impact on the
environment. Both sides of the partisan aisle must believe in climate change.
Climate change and human impact on the environment is a growing issue that will
influence the earth for generations to come. Unfortunately, this important problem has been
politicized, not just in America, but also seemingly, worldwide. The public does not take this
issue as seriously because of the politicization of the issue and seemingly does not care as much
because of this. In order for humans to lessen their impact on the Earth, international agreements
and governmental laws must be passed. Global warming is a serious issue that does not need to
be hampered by politics.

Works Cited
Baker, Beth. "Politicizing Science What Is the Role of Biologists in a Hyperpartisan World?"
BioScience. Oxford Journals, n.d. Web.
Baker, Beth. "Politicizing Science What Is the Role of Biologists in a Hyperpartisan World?"
N.p., n.d. Web.
Dunlap, Riley E. "Climate Change Skepticism and Denial: An Introduction." N.p., n.d. Web. 03
Apr. 2016.
Hamilton, Clive. "Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change." @ Clive Hamilton. N.p.,
n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2016.
Maraniss, David, and Robert Samuels. "Partisan Bias about Climate Change Is More Prevalent
than You Think." Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2016.
McCright, Aaron, and Riley E. Dunlap. "Polarization on Global Warming." THE
PUBLICS VIEWS OF GLOBAL WARMING, 20012010 (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Salehyan, Idean, and Cullen S. Hendrix. "Science and The Politics of Climate Change." N.p.,
n.d. Web.