How Climate Change Became Political

Megan Horner, Editor-In-Chief

Climate Change. Global Warming. For many Americans, the mere mention of these words can begin great debates between both friends and political foes, twist mouths into grimaces, and cause many to declare “I don’t want to talk about politics!” While statements like these are undoubtedly common, the question is, how did it come to be this way? Scientists across the world have confirmed over and over again that climate change is a real issue. Despite this, the United States, one of the most powerful countries in the world and one that is in a position to contribute to the effort against climate change, trips up over unnecessary political entanglements.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this issue is the recency of its partisan nature. Climate change in of itself is not a new problem. In fact, scientists have known about the greenhouse effect since as early as 1824 when it was discovered by Joseph Fourier, a French physicist, and it has been acknowledged by the U.S. government as an issue since the sixties. Still, up until the eighties, the issue of climate change was relatively outside of mainstream conversations.

According to a Times report, on June 23, 1988, James Hansen, a scientist for NASA, said in a heavily televised testimony before the Senate Energy Committee, “Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming. It is already happening now.”

Climate change was an important, mainstream issue and politicians responded accordingly. In the 1988 election between Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis, both parties included vigorous approaches to climate change as parts of their campaigns.

By today’s standards, the idea that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on an issue involving climate change seems a bit like a unicorn- something for the imaginations of naive children. Yet, not even thirty years ago, the issue was totally bipartisan.

Republican President George H.W. Bush helped launch the international framework for addressing climate change called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It would later lead to important agreements on the issue of global warming.

The issue of partisanship began in the early nineties when the legitimacy of climate change was questioned by groups, such as the Global Climate Coalition, which hoped to influence the talks of climate change between world leaders, most likely to hinder taxes on fossil fuels.

According to, The efforts of the Global Climate Coalition were coordinated its members including the National Coal Association and the American Petroleum Institute, both of which paid huge amounts of money on campaigns against the fight on Climate Change. They both would have been negatively affected in the fight against climate change due to the nature of their business.

Unfortunately, they were successful, and questions about the truthfulness of climate change became a major issue in American politics. Business-focused Republicans turned away from the fight against climate change, as many were concerned about how it would affect jobs such as mining. They are generally concerned that in the fight against climate change, those jobs would be sacrificed due to their environmentally toxic nature; however, according to World Economic Forum’s article, “How Will Climate Change Affect Jobs,” the loss of environmentally detrimental jobs like coal mining will be replaced by more economically friendly jobs.

The tension over Republican views on climate change reached a peak during the Obama administration. Due to the increased gap between Democratic and Republican views, both sides developed an unhealthy distaste for anything the other touched. This includes climate change. Because of this contempt, because Obama and subsequently the Democrats took a strong stance against climate change, and because of the aforementioned doubt on how climate change would affect various jobs, Republicans turned away from the fight against climate change, even going so far as to, under President Trump’s administration, withdraw from the Paris Accords in August.

The Paris Accords were a convention in August between world leaders that discussed ways to decrease the amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere. There is no way to enforce these regulations, however. This would not be a problem, but because the United States, a country that emits such a large portion of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, chooses not to follow the Paris Accords, there is less motivation to implement the regulations.

This is a massive step back from the fight against climate change. Global warming is causing oceans to warm, ice sheets and glaciers to shrink, sea level rise, and extreme weather conditions.

The issue then becomes, “What can I do to help?” There are a variety of answers. Individuals do not often have enough power to make any real change outside of conserving water and energy. The answer to this issue is this: contact the ones that do. Email senators, call representatives, and make them listen!

Climate change. Global warming. The thought of these words and their implications are terrifying. People rely on their leaders to make decisions that will ultimately help them and their peers, and yet, the U.S. government is unable to see past its messy politics to help its people. Climate change is real, it is terrifying, and it will affect everyone. It is also currently a political debate. Don’t let it be.

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