Articles Comments

Dickinson to Durban » Climate Change » Climate Change, Politicized. Nations, Polarized.

Climate Change, Politicized. Nations, Polarized.

In the world today, it is impossible for issues of climate change’s magnitude to be isolated from politics.  The government is the body within the United States and most other countries which has the power to impose regulations on the people within its jurisdiction.  Thus it is the government which needs to create and uphold standards of environmental protection in order for people to actually change their ways of life.  Ironically, now more than ever in recent history, the United States government is polarized on almost all large issues, especially climate change.  This division results in discussions which end with the decision that “more research is needed” rather than a call to collective action to prevent the predicted disastrous effects of climate change from occurring.

In addition to the fact that elected officials constantly debate the degree of climate change and what the global community should or should not do about it, the media portrays this apparent confusion to the general public.  Although politicians argue about climate change because they are first and foremost worried about their political agendas and personal industry interests, it appears to the general public that they disagree on the scientific proof.  In the book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, they show this disconnect over and over.  The scientists and politicians are fully aware that climate change is occurring; it is simply not in some of their interests to support actions to slow its effects.  Almost every day there are articles in The New York Times, among other major news outlets, which show the degree to which climate change has been politicized.  For example, The New York Times article, “Stung by the President on Air Quality, Environmentalists Weigh Their Options” by Leslie Kaufman discusses how environmentalists view Obama after he announced less stringent ozone pollutant standards and because of his current discussions about the Keystone XL Pipeline over the past week.  Many environmentalists see these acts as “brazen political sellouts to business interests and the Republican Party” (Kaufman, New York Times).  Kaufman adds “that in the current climate there is little chance that environmentalists or their allies will ever side with the Republicans” (Kaufman, New York Times).  Clearly, climate science and politics are closely intertwined despite the fact that together they stall the country from taking action.

Not only is climate change a politically charged topic in the United States, but it is also a global political issue.  Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change holds the task of presenting scientific information relating to climate change, their “work has been heavily politicized from the onset” (Bulkeley et al. 27).  This is because each member of this global organization, scientists and non-scientists alike, comes from a country with specific interests and economic situations.  Everything that is included and not included in the products of the IPCC and other global organizations is influenced by the politics and power of those involved.  On all levels of governance, climate change is as much a political topic as a scientific one.  The current result of this mixture is a misinformed and divided public and a stalemate between liberals and conservatives on a national and global level. 


Bulkeley, H., and P. Newell, 2010. Governing Climate Change. Routledge, New York.

Kaufman, Leslie. “Stung by the President on Air Quality, Environmentalists Weigh Their Options.” The New York Times, September 3, 2011. Accessed September 4, 2011.

 Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway, 2010. Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsburg Press, New York.

Written by

Filed under: Climate Change · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to "Climate Change, Politicized. Nations, Polarized."

  1. learyn says:

    Several good points. As you note, politicization of science is evident in public discourses and decision-making on climate change and other environmental issues. With respect to the IPCC, however, in my view it is how the reports of the IPCC have been used and communicated by different actors that have been highly politicized — and not the IPCC reports themselves that are politicized.

    As a participant in IPCC science assessments, my observation is that the scientists who author the IPCC reports adhere to a high standard of scientific objectivity and balance — balance that is driven by the weight of evidence, not a simplistic balancing that gives equal space to competing hypotheses for which there is not equal support. The authors, like anyone, have perspectives that can shape how they interpret, weigh and integrate available evidence. But the authors are deliberately chosen so that the author teams include a wide range of expertise, perspectives and nationalities, and they work together to conduct a thorough assessment of scientific literature and evidence to arrive at shared conclusions.

    The procedures of the IPCC require that the authors base their conclusions primarily on peer-reviewed publications and that uncertainties be acknowledged where relevant. IPCC procedures also require that, when there are different competing views on a question that have credible scientific support, then the different scientifically supportable views must be presented in the reports. If you take the time to read any of the roughly 1000-page report volumes of the IPCC, I think you will be impressed by how thoroughly and painstakingly the authors follow these procedures.

    To be sure, the process by which IPCC reports are reviewed and revised prior to being accepted by the governments that comprise the IPCC, and the process by which the report summaries are finalized, are ones in which external reviewers and governments seek to influence the reports for sometimes overtly political purposes. Ultimately, however, it is scientific evidence that is the currency by which changes to the reports and their summaries are decided — with the scientist authors assuring that the finalized reports are valid and defensible.

Leave a Reply