Solution as Problem?: Sociologists on the Climate Wars

(originally published April 25, 2011 in ecoAffect.org)

Perhaps more than any other issue save abortion, climate change solutions as developed by progressive environmentalists embodied the divide in political philosophies in America. Republicans who champion freedom, American independence and free-market capitalism while abhorring big government and tax solutions to problems found Cap and Trade and the possible Copenhagen agreement to be an anathema. Climate
Progressives sought to address this dynamic by promoting Cap and Trade as a capitalistic, market-based solution.  However all the money generated by the scheme was routed through and redistributed by the federal government to winners and losers picked by a political, not an free-market economic system.  A government-regulated tax by any other name did not fool American conservatives.  The focus on elite, politically partisan solutions in effect fed the opposition that caused their defeat.

So over the last couple of decades, global warming became a crux issue in the polarization of America.  The current issue of The Sociological Quarterly contains a symposium exploring the politics of climate change anchored by “The Politicization of Climate Change and Polarization in the American Public’s Views of Global Warming 2001-2010” by Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University and Riley E. Dunlap from Oklahoma State University.  The research paper uses a decade of research by the Gallup organization supported by numerous other studies to explore the partisan divide.

The partisan polarization of climate and environmental issues is now taken for granted as political realities of both parties, but McCright and Dunlap add useful perspective to the common knowledge.  Amongst these are the negative correlation between education and belief in climate science among Republicans – the inverse of the pattern with Democrats; the expectation that this  polarization is not going to diminish significantly in the near term; and that any successful strategy for political solutions is going to have to much better address the forces of “anti-reflexivity” –  primarily the political and economic forces aligned against solutions for reasons that really have nothing to do with science or climate realities.

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