By: Priyanka Chellappa
The topic of climate change presents an interesting point of comparison for the upcoming election. As Republican candidates continue to maintain the “I’m not a scientist” response to climate questions, last week’s Democratic debate made the environment a top priority. In fact, 4 of the 5 candidates addressed climate change during their opening statement. So why do Democrats embrace the climate change topic while Republicans ignore it altogether?
In a word, politics. The highly controversial nature of climate change has clearly cut along party lines within the political sphere, but this division is not as evident in the public. In fact, more than 55% of American voters agree that unsustainable human activities have had detrimental effects on the environment. The general consensus within the public pales in comparison to the unity of scientific community, which is in 97% agreement of the importance of anthropogenic climate change. However, decades of polarizing debate have transformed an issue that should be grounded in protecting and preserving the environment into a political battleground.
The climate change debate is a casualty of the political machine; as both sides use the issue to rally their bases either for or against, the issue itself loses legitimacy.
Interestingly enough, Republicans candidates have the most to gain from opening a discussion on climate change. By accepting the science and advocating for environmentally friendly policy, Republican can not only shed the mantle of “climate change deniers” but also stand out in the public eye. Moreover, they open the door for climate debates grounded in science rather than politics.
The bottom line is that a climate change agenda has never won the White House. In 2012, environmental concerns were hardly on the political radar and today skyrocketing national debt coupled with instability abroad still dictates the talking points. In short, immediate US domestic and foreign affairs will always take precedence over issues of sustainability. The danger of putting off the climate change conversation is that the problem will only become harder to solve over time.
If Republicans are willing to overcome the buzzwords and shift the discussion to creating a cleaner future by encouraging innovation, they have the opportunity to cut into a voter base dominated by Democrats and initiate the conversation on their terms.