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Climate Change Denial Has Become Climate Change Downplay: Is This Progress?

Maxim Sorokopud Maxim Sorokopud
13th March 2021
Climate Change Denial Has Become Climate Change Downplay: Is This Progress?
Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

 Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

Climate change awareness and climate change denial have long been competing for airtime. As far back as 1959, a scientist working for Shell Oil dismissed suggestions that the burning of fossil fuels could lead to changes in climate. He published his position in the scientific journal New Scientist, stating, “Nature’s carbon cycles are so vast that there seem few grounds for believing Man will upset the balance.” 

Of course, science has developed significantly over the last 62 years. Yet the argument rages on. Climate change policy decisions will continue to be proposed, implemented and altered for the foreseeable future. But downplaying the need for these policies may become ever more commonplace in the coming years.

Today, most people have accepted that climate change is real. Several things have contributed to this acceptance: With increasing frequency, events such as wildfires, hurricanes and extreme winter storms are disrupting daily life all over the world. And proof of global warming has been clearly documented. NASA states that the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit (1.18 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century. However, people strongly disagree on how to combat climate change, and on whether it will even cause harm. Some still believe that nothing should be done. This disunity is dangerous. 

Irrefutable facts have shifted climate change denial to climate change downplay.  For instance, in 2020, then President Donald Trump stated he didn’t think that science knew if climate change was causing extreme weather. This aligned with right-wing messaging from the 2012 election cycle, when the Republican presidential candidates overwhelmingly rejected climate change. The downplay was evident again when Mitt Romney stated, “Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that, but I think that it is. I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.” However, this wasn’t always the Republican platform. In 2008, the Republican presidential nominee John McCain proposed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60% over the following four decades. 

The Republican response to climate change has fluctuated over the last 15 years. Some Republicans acknowledge the danger that climate change poses. For instance, Wyoming senator John Barrasso has claimed that his party supports a “common-sense approach to addressing climate change.” However, the 2020 Republican platform offered few indications of how the party would tackle the issue. Climate change downplay may have contributed to these inconsistencies. While some consider it to be a bipartisan issue, America’s polarized political landscape has led many right-wing figures to equate climate change action with radical left-wing policymaking.  

In recent years, numerous sources have tied climate change facts to left-wing politics. For instance, in 2019, Fox Business hosted Bjorn Lomborg, the president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, who stated that The Green New Deal could spend $2.1 trillion every year to achieve little. This is a significant exaggeration considering that the cost of the proposals would be closer to $1 trillion. CNN also notes that the Green New Deal, “is more a list of ideals than an actual proposal.” This video has been posted to conspiracy websites such as 21st Century Wire, as proof that global warming is being exaggerated by the left as a way to create “fatal policy decisions.”

Recent climate change related events have also resulted in politicians blaming left-wing politics for failures in government. For instance, when a winter storm caused mass power outages in Texas, the state governor, Greg Abbott, stated that it was evidence of, “how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal.” His statement disregards that renewable energy only accounted for 13% of the power outages, meaning 87% of the power outages were caused by fossil fuel sources. Governor Abbott’s statement seemed to attempt two things at once: 1. Deflect from his own administration’s failings, and 2. Make his constituents believe that left-wing policies have made the world more vulnerable to climate change than ever before. 

Climate change is an undeniable fact. And addressing it should be considered a priority for everyone, not just people who identify as left-wing. Of course, some accept the existence of climate change but still deny that humanity is the cause. NASA, which is a non-partisan government body, states that it is 95% probable that the current trend of global warming is the result of human activity.

Can American left and right-wing political parties ever unite to combat climate change? In 2021, this seems unlikely. But as John McCain’s 2008 climate policies show, it isn’t unthinkable for The Republican Party to take climate change seriously. Perhaps it will again. President Joe Biden’s calls for bipartisanship may be the first step to connect the Republican Party with those who want meaningful actions on climate change. 

It’s impossible to know what will happen in the future, both in terms of political party trajectory and the health of the planet. Some will maintain that climate change is an exaggeration, even amidst overwhelming evidence. If we do nothing, NASA states that these are the effects we can expect: temperatures will continue to rise, the frost-free season will lengthen, rain patterns will change, and extreme heat in the U.S. will occur every two-to-three years (instead of once every 20 years). Hurricanes will continue to become stronger and more intense, sea levels will rise between one to eight feet, summer sea ice will likely disappear from the arctic, wildfires will increase, and more. 

NASA’s predictions mean that climate change will continue to affect people across the world and with ever more intensity as the years pass. It stands to reason that as more people are affected, more resources will be dedicated to fighting the cause. But by whom? The left? The right? Or a coalition of the left and the right? Hopefully, recent extreme weather events and changes in government policies will finally prompt long lasting action. 


Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images