Climate Change War: Pope Francis vs. American Conservatives

by Alicé Anil
(New York, NY)

Denial Is Far Too Common in the Republican Party

Denial Is Far Too Common in the Republican Party

While the Pope's encyclical on climate change has garnered widespread praise for adding much-needed authority to what is often considered one of the most vexing “moral challenges” of our time, not everyone is applauding the Pope.

American conservatives, for their part, have formally gone on the offensive, unofficially catalyzing the beginning of a new climate change war. Some conservative politicians went as far as telling the Pope (who has a masters degree in chemistry) to "leave science to the scientists."

Climate Change Denial in the U.S.

Others responded in a similar vein. "I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my Pope," said Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush.

Conservative politicians’ war against the Pope, however, is merely reflective of an alarming anti-science trend in American society.

While most of the world has acknowledged the reality of climate change and the need for adaption and mitigation, Americans are lagging behind. Surveys show Americans leading the world in climate denial.

Global Trends

A UK “Global Trends” 2014 study polled 16,000 people in 20 countries to gauge attitudes towards climate change (among other issues), and the US was ranked first on climate "skepticism," with the least amount of respondents agreeing climate change is a result of human activity.

On the other hand, over "80 percent of those surveyed in Argentina, France, Italy, Spain and Turkey believe that humans are largely responsible."

Even more alarming, American public opinion on climate change is nearly divided. Although 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is caused by human activity, nearly half of Americans, or 48%, deny it.

What Explains the Discrepancy?

For the general population, a confluence of factors come into play; it ranges from psychological influences such as the confirmation and optimism bias (Source) to the false equivalence (Source) created by the media in the climate change "debate" to a distrust of scientific "uncertainty." (Source)

However, for politicians, the story can perhaps be best explained by following the money.

The climate denying caucus in the US congress is made up of 160 politicians, all of whom are Republicans with strong ties to the fossil fuel industry. Since 2008, the energy industry has donated over US$641 million dollars (Source) to climate deniers with the implicit goal of blocking climate change legislation. (Source)

Disinformation Campaign

In addition to its bankrolling of Congress, the fossil fuel lobby has invested millions of dollars in a massive and sophisticated misinformation effort to debunk climate science (Source).

According to a 2013 report (Source) by Drexel University Professor Robert Brulle, its activities include “political lobbying, contributions to political candidates, and a large number of communication and media efforts that aim at undermining climate science.”

Its strategies have been analogized with Big Tobacco’s tactics to deny the health effects of smoking. It coincidentally also draws its team from the same key players that led the tobacco industry’s efforts. (Source)

Follow the Money

With the unprecedented control of money over politics in America, it is no wonder why politicians have chosen to ignore the science and instead go with the money.

In 2014, the oil and gas industry represented the fifth-largest lobbying group in Washington (Source). The environmental advocacy industry, on the other hand, did not even make it to the top 20.

As much as conservative politicians want the American people to believe their Oscar-worthy performances on the Senate floor (Source) (yes, I’m looking at you Senator James Inhofe) as they flippantly attempt to dispute an irrefutable scientific consensus, do not be fooled.

Their loyalty lies elsewhere because besides death and taxes, one thing is sure in American politics: money buys votes. But even politicians have to pay the rent, right?

So who’s your money on: Pope Francis or American conservatives?

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