Partisanship stands in the way of climate action

March 29, 2017

Instead of looking at President Trump’s executive order on climate as a policy, we might look at it instead as political propaganda. Trump signed the order in front of a group of coal miners. He praised them effusively and solicited a long ovation for them. When is the last time that coal miners have been applauded or even praised by the White House? Many have pointed out correctly that coal jobs are decreasing because of national and global market forces, so it is unlikely that these jobs are coming back. But the point here might not be jobs, but as Aretha Franklin said, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Many of those pressing for climate action have embraced the partisanship of the issue, and acted to enhance it. I saw this at play while testifying before the House Science Committee today. Those labeled by the term “climate deniers” might be the original “deplorables.” Yale law professor Dan Kahan has concluded that the incessant demand that everyone must believe the same thing on climate science—or they are stupid rubes—actually backfires: “It’s a bumper sticker, and it says ‘f**k you’ on it.”

So long as the climate issue is celebrated as a partisan wedge issue, there will be a huge opening for those who think like Trump to use it as populist propaganda. While partisan food fights are exciting to some, those of us interested in climate action might think about how we got here (hint: it’s not all “their” fault)—where “here” is a situation in which climate policies are being rolled back, and few seem to care.

Can those interested in climate action remake the subject into a bipartisan issue respectful of all Americans and their values—regardless of their political party, home state, or education? We’d better, because without broad public support climate policies are going nowhere. We should pay attention to Trump’s propaganda, there are lessons for us all there.