The 2012 Environmental Mandate and the End of Climate Denial

The 2012 election covered many issues, but the environment certainly wasn’t one of them. My personal favorite was when the two candidates argued over which one of them would be a stronger supporter of the oil industry. Still, the differences between the two on issues such as environmental protection and climate change were correctly inferred on election night. No one even slightly concerned for the health of the planet or it’s suitability for sustaining life had a real choice—at least not in the lesser-of-two-evils style of politics (ever heard of Jill Stein?). With President Obama’s dramatic victory comes an environmental and climate mandate. It is up to the voters to hold him to it.

A 2012 study by Yale University found that 77 percent of Americans believe climate change should be a “very high priority” for the president and congress.

Climate change is a major issue in nearly every country on earth. In no other land are deniers of science given such a voice, and at such high levels of government. An IOP Science article published in October of 2012 found that US newspapers dwarf the coverage of other nations regarding climate denial. The discussion here has at least changed, from flat-out denial to an “it’s a natural cycle” argument. Deniers in this county, unaware and seemingly uninterested in the global or scientific dialog, imply a conspiracy on an impossible scale. No, the global community and scientific consensus are not in league against a particular political faction in our county. And no, snow in November doesn’t change anything.

To even begin to understand how such untenable beliefs become the cornerstone of a political platform, one has to address the psychology behind climate denial. The solutions to address climate change, which involve rethinking issues such as regulation, limiting consumption and the corporate influence in the political process, stand in direct opposition to the core beliefs of climate deniers. What should be an objective discussion quickly turns into a question of character and ideology (For an excellent article on the topic, I would refer you to Naomi Klein’s Nation article Capitalism vs. the Climate.). In fact, the most reliable predictor as to whether someone acknowledges man’s influence on the climate is not their education level or socioeconomic position, but rather how they feel about contentious social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. The problem, of course, is that climate change is not an issue that one has the right not to believe in, just as one can’t deny the population census. Climate change is the definition of a collective problem, and we’d better start thinking about it collectively while we still have the chance to make a difference.

On Nov. 14, President Obama announced that addressing climate change will be a responsibility of his second term. He said, “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, and that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions” and “we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it”. Frankly, it is embarrassing that the president must couch the first statement in the language of belief. In the US, we lost any credible claim to the ‘I had no idea’ argument in 1988 when NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen testified on anthropogenic climate change before Congress. And we just experienced Sandy, which inspired New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to endorse President Obama (the title of the November edition of Bloomberg Business Review read “It’s Global Warming, Stupid”). The president’s speech is quite a departure from anything during his first term. He is listening. Now is the time to speak louder than ever before, and while we still have the chance to. Let the president know that the Keystone pipeline has no place in America’s energy future. Let him know that a cost-neutral, fee and dividend solution is the only way to meaningfully address America’s carbon footprint, and transition to a sustainable economy.

From Cross-national comparison of the presence of climate scepticism in the print media in six countries, 2007–10 James Painter and Teresa Ashe 2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 7, IOP Science


About the Author

Ryan is passionate about sustainability and smart energy. He studied at Tennessee Technological University, as well as Universität Trier where he received a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering and German. His experience includes lab and production support at Schott AG, PV Business consulting in Germany with EuPD Research, as well as his current position as a smart energy engineer at Schneider Electric. Ryan is also an active member of CCL Nashville (Citizens Climate Lobby), and is on the board of EarthSave Louisville.

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