Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Candidates and Climate: Weighing in on climate change and global warming

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By: Amy Kullas, Ph.D.

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When Pope Francis visited the White House last fall, he delivered a speech emphasizing that “climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” He also added, “To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King: we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honour it.” Importantly, the pope directly referenced the Obama administration’s proposed climate change regulations, “Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.”

The pope’s opinion is in stark contrast to former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin’s opinion on climate change. She visited Washington, D.C. at the beginning of April to support and endorse the anti-global warming documentary “Climate Hustle”, which has been described as “a propaganda movie for climate deniers.” Aside from airing conspiracy theories, the timing of the discussion around the film was well-planned. The following week, the United Nations met in New York and more than 130 global leaders attended the formal signing of the Paris Agreement, “largest environmental treaty of this generation,” supporting a dramatic cut for pollution.

In her remarks, Palin made it clear that she was beginning to feel isolated due to her thoughts on climate change and warned of potential ‘government takeovers’ because of it. She was also adamant that she no longer believed scientists about anything due to potential political influence.

“The science is kind of getting thrown out of the window in discussions about changes in the weather,” Palin said. “It’s something that our candidates should be talking about and giving us their view on and hopefully acknowledging that it needs to become in the science community less political. Otherwise, it leads us to believe that so many things then coming from the scientists could be bogus. If this is bogus, what else are they trying to tell us and control us around?”

In that quote, Palin did bring up one valid point. This is an election year and it is important to know where each of the remaining presidential candidates stands on climate change and global warming, since it has yet to become a hot topic during a presidential debate.

Hillary Clinton:  On January 18, 2016, she signed a pledge that at least half of the country’s energy needs would be fueled with renewable resources by 2030. Clinton also supports the nation’s involvement in the Paris Agreement. And in her climate change policy, she has two goals: “installing more than 500 million solar panels across the country by the end of her first term and generating enough renewable energy to power every home in 10 years.”

Bernie Sanders:  On February 8, 2016, Senator Saunders also signed a pledge to power at least half of the nation’s energy needs with renewable resources by 2030. Sanders went a step beyond supporting the country’s support with the Paris Agreement by stating that it “goes nowhere near far enough” to address the continuing increase in carbon emissions. Lastly on December 10, 2015, he introduced the Climate Protection Justice Act “to establish a price on carbon pollution” and “cut total emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, fund historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies, return billions of dollars to working families and protect the most vulnerable communities.”

Ted Cruz:  On December 9, 2015 during an interview on National Public Radio (NPR), he stated that, “The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming… Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big government politician who wants more power. It is a theory that can never be disproven.” Cruz also blamed “government researchers of ‘cooking the books’ to make it appear that global warming was supported by scientific data.”

John Kasich:  On March 10, 2016 he said, “I do believe that we contribute to climate change. We believe in natural gas. We believe in nuclear power. I happen to believe in solar energy, wind energy, renewables matter.” On October 15, 2015 he released “The Kasich Action Plan” which included plans to increase energy from all sources to facilitate independence from foreign energy sources, allowing the country to get its energy solely from North America.

Donald Trump:  In January 2014, he declared that climate change was “a hoax.” He has also tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” As for Trump’s opinion on renewable forms of energy, “wind turbines were ‘an environmental & aesthetic disaster’.”

As highlighted above, Republican candidates generally regard global warming as unproven theory and oppose action, while democrats tend to support actions that they believe will reduce global warming and its effects through the control of greenhouse gas emissions. This facilitates a great divide among candidates as well as the country as a whole. How can this be?  Perhaps it is partly due to the media giving greater attention to a few loud climate change skeptics than the scientific community as a whole. News outlets have allowed climate change skeptics to explain their version of the science of climate change instead of experts in climatology; this misinformation helps feed climate change denial. The political and ideological opposition to taking action on climate change include:

  1. Not wanting to put the environment ahead of people,
  2. A concern that climate change is being used to progress an agenda around social justice, such as international aid and environmentalism, and
  3. A worry that action on climate change will undermine economic prosperity because it will initially be more expensive energy.

Lastly, most skeptics say, “A few degrees? So what? If I turn my thermostat down a few degrees, I’ll be fine…”

In reality, as the earth’s climate increasingly warms, the potential to adversely influence overall quality of life rises. More research is showing that the ramifications of global warming are quite widespread including the alteration of seasonal expression of some infectious diseases, disturbance of food production and changes in the frequency of weather patterns. Individually, abnormal changes to these elements can dramatically influence the economy and quality of human life, but combined, the outcome can be even more devastating.  Even the United States is not immune to the impact of climate change. In 2014 alone, there were eight extreme weather or climate disasters costing the United States more than $1 billion each, which were paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

Numerous national and international agencies have stated that global temperatures and sea levels are rising, which will continue, perhaps at even a faster rate, into the 21st century unless action is taken immediately. Current and future climate change will expose the world population to numerous stressors. Researchers estimate that at the current rate of global warming, millions of people will be displaced due to coastal flooding stemming from rising sea levels. Furthermore, two billion people currently reside in the world’s deserts, but increased desertification impacting agricultural output and water shortages may result in the migration of millions of people from these deserts into North Africa and Europe. Climate change has been described as “one of the world’s greatest human development challenges.”

Overall, there is a causal chain stemming from climate impacts. Climate change effectors increase human exposure pathways, which make individuals more vulnerable to damaging pollutants and diseases.  Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, said “The evidence is overwhelming: Climate change endangers human health. Solutions exist, and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.” In addition to signing of the Paris Agreement, there is a global group of investors (such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Richard Branson) who are unifying to provide “truly transformative energy solutions for the future.” Mobilizing educational and public outreach efforts to achieve public resonance will be essential for these efforts to succeed. In terms of reach however, it is the health-care sector, rather than the technological and economic sectors, which has the potential to educate the public the most about the connection between climate change and their own health.


Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 3, 2016 at 9:00 am

One Response

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  1. Jimmy Kimmel puts together a ‘public service announcement’ from actual scientists that Climate Change is real:


    May 3, 2016 at 3:09 pm

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