6.7.5.3 Political Controversy over Climate Change

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6753.htm)

The biggest environmental challenge we face may be climate change, which is mired in controversy:

  • Environmental science is too complex for simple statements to be made about cause and effect. There is disagreement about the science and some of the economic projections (3.5.7.1).  There hasn’t been an agreed process for updating the financial analysis and scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) have been accused of a “lack of openness”, as reported by the BBC on 8 July 2010: Science behind closed doors.
  • There has been some hysteria. Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth received huge publicity, not least as a result of the Nobel Peace Prize that he received for it in 2007, yet it made exaggerated claims that are not supported by scientific data: The Boston Globe published an article by Bjorn Lomborg on 13 October 2007, entitled An inconvenient Peace Prize, in which he pointed out that Al Gore’s portrayal of 20-foot sea-level rises this century was out of line with the IPCC estimates of 2-foot rises, yet “the IPCC’s estimates and conclusions are grounded in careful study”.

Nonetheless, rising water levels in heavily populated areas like Bangladesh and desertification in Africa’s Sahel region could lead to unprecedented levels of migration, with its attendant problems (6.7.4.1).  Climate change has been presented as an existential threat to the world.  Many people understandably want to influence politicians to do whatever is possible to avoid catastrophe, whereas others feel sceptical about the need for change.  Opinions have divided along party lines in America, for example:

  • The Republican Party platform for 2016 referred to “the illusion of an environmental crisis” (p.21). Section 4 was entitled America’s Natural Resources: Agriculture, Energy, and the Environment, which opened with the claim that “We are the party of America’s growers, producers…” and noted the “millions of jobs” that are associated with them.  It asserted its opposition to renewable energy targets, carbon taxes, federal involvement and American participation in international programmes to control climate change.
  • The Democratic Party platform for 2016, in complete contrast, included a section entitled Combat Climate Change, Build A Clean Energy Economy, And Secure Environmental Justice. It asserted that “[c]limate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time” and pledged to “take bold steps to slash carbon pollution and protect clean air at home, [and] lead the fight against climate change around the world”.

These two platforms reflect the parties’ contrasting ideologies:

  • Republican policy showed elements of individualism (2.2) and of authoritarian populism (6.3.2.6), presenting itself as offering strong leadership unconstrained by any political or moral obligation to work with other countries. Its policy of delegating environmental measures to individual States is consistent with its advocacy of a small central government and a ‘laissez-faire’ approach (6.2.4.3), which would result in intense pressure to ignore carbon emissions targets where there is coal-mining, whilst other areas would be more adversely affected by climate change.
  • The Democratic policy was collectivist (6.2.3) and progressive (6.2.5) – but that was less appealing to many discontented voters, who instinctively distrusted the political establishment and the advice of scientific experts. The party paid insufficient attention to the people whose lives were adversely affected by regulations that were intended to achieve collective benefit.  The need to take action to soften the impact of rapid social change is discussed later (6.7.8).

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