Climate change is considered by many to be a defining issue of our time. Even though the environment is something that everyone shares, there is still fierce disagreement between political parties regarding not only what should be done about climate change, but whether it’s a problem at all.
Conservatives are generally more resistant to government regulations geared towards reducing carbon emissions and preventing climate change. Common conservative concerns revolve around the scientific validity of this global warming crisis, as well as the economic impact of imposing regulations and what the government’s role should be in all of this.
Conservative skeptics believe in challenging the scientific consensus on climate change. While there is no denying that the temperature of the planet has been increasing, they may disagree that humans are causing it, or disagree that it is a problem. Some warming may be attributed to human activity, and some may be attributed to climate change that occurs naturally over time. We can give it our best guess based on our current knowledge, but “we should be skeptical of claims that the science of a complicated and unpredictable system is settled.”
Recently, news came out regarding the possibility of establishing a White House climate security panel to inform the administration on issues of climate change. Spearheading this initiative is Princeton University physics professor William Happer.
He has been labeled by some as a climate change denialist for his views on carbon dioxide emissions—specifically, that an excess of carbon dioxide is nothing to worry about— “more CO2 is good for the world”. Conservatives skeptical of global warming favor this change. Former Republican staffer Marc Morano said, “This is a major, major development. The biggest failing of this administration has been that they have not challenged the science.”
Another part of the conservative view on climate change involves their resistance to using government policy to solve it. Conservatives favor free markets and less government power—so for many, it may not necessarily be that they reject the science, it may be that they don’t believe tax dollars should “be used to prop up the clean-energy industry”. Instead, they trust in the free market system and human innovation to solve problems like these. In addition, they find many of the policies proposed by liberals to be financially unfeasible.
Conservatives also voice concerns about the economic implications of imposing sweeping regulations on these cheaper forms of energy. They believe that when projects are denied funding because they are deemed “at odds with ‘acceptable’ climate goals”, this can do great harm, particularly to underdeveloped countries whose economies rely on cheap forms of energy.
“In 2014, the government of India blacklisted ClimateWorks after that country’s Intelligence Bureau declared Greenpeace, a ClimateWorks grantee, ‘a threat to national security.’ The government said that the anti-mining, anti-drilling, and anti-coal protests ClimateWorks and other Western environmental organizations funded had cost the country up to 3% of its GDP.”
Conservatives may view policies that target coal and oil usage as “inhumane and senseless attempt to try and save the planet on the backs of the world’s poor.” Indeed, one common argument against proposed environmental policies in the United States, such as carbon taxes, is that they would put disproportionate pressure on low-income consumers. This is one area in particular where I can see conservatives and liberals sharing common ground.
Liberals, however, generally accept the scientific consensus around climate change—that significant increases in the earth’s average temperature will have drastic impacts on the environment, from rising sea levels and extinction of species to extreme weather events and increased geopolitical tensions that pose a threat to national security. They believe that global warming is a serious issue that must be addressed on a large scale. Contrary to professor William Happer, they believe that to deny that excessive carbon dioxide is a problem is to undermine a scientific and government consensus.
They view this new initiative to establish a climate security committee as “part of a disturbing trend in which the Trump administration elevates ideological opponents of established scientific views”. They believe that the consequences of such a committee could “shift the Pentagon’s behavior in a new and significant way”—it could declare that climate change is not a national security threat, thus dampening military efforts to continue planning for climate risks.
It seems that the economic aspect of creating environmental policy continues to be a hurdle for liberals. The recent Green New Deal demonstrates that liberals are struggling to find a solution that is financially feasible as well as effective and favorable to the public.
In the wake of the president’s action to declare a national emergency in order to secure funding for a border wall, some are pondering the possibility of a future president using the same power to take action against climate change. Because the Pentagon does currently classify climate change as a threat to national security, succeeding in declaring a national emergency on the basis of this issue could potentially be feasible, if only comparatively so.
Reading about this issue from both perspectives really did open my mind and teach me quite a lot. I knew that political issues were complicated and often involved a lot more “grey area” than much of public discourse on the subject cared to reveal, but I always felt that the issue of the environment was fairly black and white.
As a person who leans liberal, I had always been under the impression that those who opposed government action to combat climate change could only people who denied science. Now, I see that there are other reasons—and even if I may not agree with all of them, or agree with prioritizing certain concerns over others, I can at least see that they make sense from a different perspective.