The Great Politicization of Climate Change (Part 1)


Image: Justin Bilicki, finalist in UCS Science Idol Contest, via JCWinnie

Okay, so it's not exactly breaking news: climate change has been politicized for decades now. Which, as disturbing as it is, isn't necessarily surprising. The powerful interests whose unsustainable business practices are primary contributors to the growing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were bound to rebut scientific findings to preserve their operations. That they would do it so successfully that they'd convince an entire political party that ignoring scientific consensus on a dangerous issue is acceptable was the surprising part.

And now, Republicans with congressional or presidential aspirations cannot even admit that humans are causing global climate change--even if they've done so before--if they hope to preserve their political fortunes. As evidence, let's take a look at the saga of three prominent GOP climate action proponents who've suddenly turned tight-lipped on the subject to boost their careers: John McCain, Tim Pawlenty, and Scott Brown.Tim Pawlenty
He was one of the greenest governors in the nation, period. He called for Minnesota to lead on enacting a cap and trade system, so that other states and the US government might follow. He pioneered clean energy and green jobs programs.

And then Tim Pawlenty decided to consider a presidential run in 2012. His opinions on climate change grew, shall we say, murkier. For evidence, look no further than these two pieces of media, which do a good job of summing up the then-and-now shift in Pawlenty's take on science.

This radio ad was done just two years ago. Note how Pawlenty calls to cap emissions:

And here's Pawlenty now, on Meet the Press:

Here, Pawlenty appears to be making use of Frank Luntz's famed memo to the GOP on climate change messaging--he's emphasizing the 'uncertainty' and pretending to have an intellectual desire to get to the bottom of this "unproven" phenomenon. While, of course, he simultaneously scores points with hardliners who deny climate change and musters support from powerful industries like oil, coal, and the Chamber of Commerce.

With Pawlenty, the interesting thing is how much of a bold-faced political maneuver it is--he was an ardent supporter of climate action, and an outspoken believer in climate change just a year and a half ago. It impressed him so much that Brad Johnson gave him the gold medal for climate flip flopping. It seems to be textbook case of the promise of power corrupting core beliefs (unless his support for climate change was simply a politically opportunistic ploy in a blue-leaning state)--as well as a textbook example of how politicized climate change has become. Pawlenty no longer feels he can publicly respect the science behind climate change without rebuke from his party or the GOP base.

And we see this happen time and again. A once-supportive conservative politician vying for power rebukes climate change as a reassurance to the party that he'll play ball. But how did this come to be standard practice? I'll look into the cases of John McCain and Scott Brown, who've each followed similar paths, in the next segment.

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