Why Denying Climate Change is Bad Politics


Photo: db, Flickr, Creative Commons

Yesterday, I posted on the startling revelation that the Republican Party in the United States is the only major political party of any democracy in the world that gets away with denying climate science. While I attempted to fathom how that possibly came to pass, others were more focused on the broader implications of our unique -- and maddening -- political situation in regards to climate issues. Maybe I was asking the wrong question. Instead of wondering how the current Republican leadership in Congress came to be so backwards with their stance towards climate science, perhaps it's better to ask: Why are the rest of the world's conservative parties embracing it?The concept is simple, really: Because climate change is real, with real world consequences, and being upfront and honest about attempts to deal with it will make politicians look good. In other words, telling the truth about climate change will pan out to be a good move politically. Which is the idea Dave Roberts puts forward in his latest column at Grist:

Most Americans have no idea how distorted and backwards the U.S. climate change conversation is relative to what happens in other wealthy democracies. It's to the point now that even mentioning climate change is considered a political loser for a U.S. politician. They've all been instructed to talk about green jobs and scary Arab oil. Obama hasn't uttered the word "climate" more than a handful of times since taking office.

I've started to think that conventional wisdom on this is completely wrong. If I may indulge in a bit of contrarianism: Not only is being honest about climate change in the public interest, it's a political winner. The party that is forthright about the climate challenge -- early, often, and unapologetically -- will prosper in the mid- to long-term, though it may face short-term struggles.

Why? The answer is simple, and you can find it in the next window over. No, not the browser window, the glass one, on the wall. Out there in the non-virtual world of trees and clouds and stuff, outside the self-contained, win-the-morning circle jerk that is American politics, climate change is happening. It is an extant phenomenon. It cannot be banished by refusal to acknowledge it.

Which is why conservatives in other nations are actively competing with liberals to become the authority on the issue -- in Britain, for instance, prime minister David Cameron and his Tory-led coalition government make Barack Obama and the Democrats look like oil lobbyists. Cameron knows that it's better politically to take control of an issue that will inevitably have real-world impacts -- and to deliver credit to himself and his party for doing so. Roberts suggests that Democrats take the mantle and make climate issues a firm, unapologetic part of their platform right now. Because the sad fact is that deniers can squawk all they like -- the planet is going to continue to heat up.

The discrepancy may be that here in the US, neither party has much more foresight than the next news cycle -- and recognizing that addressing a long term issue like climate change could be a political boon may be beyond them at the moment. But when the impacts of climate change can no longer be denied even by the oil industries' think tanks, sympathetic politicians, and demagogic pundits, whichever party has built a reputation for ignoring the issue will lose out. Eventually.

Or, they could just commission a shiny ad campaign claiming they always believed in climate science, and that hey, look, our opponents want to raise taxes and increase the deficit! This is American politics we're talking about here, after all ...

More on Climate Politics
Why Are The Republicans The World's Only Major Political Party Denying Climate Change?
Why Nearly Every GOP Senate Candidate is a Climate Skeptic
WV Governor Shoots Down Cap & Trade Bill. Literally. (Video)

Why Denying Climate Change is Bad Politics
Yesterday, I posted on the startling revelation that the Republican Party in the United States is the only major political party of any democracy in the world that gets away with denying climate science. While I

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