Doubting Science Along Party Lines: The Polarization of Climate Change
by Emma Frances Bloomfield — University of Southern California
August 15, 2012 – 00:00
The catastrophic consequences of climate change predicted by scientists are evocative and enticing topics for media coverage. From predicted famines, flooding, wars, and death, the foreseeable future under extreme global warming rivals Judeo-Christian descriptions of the apocalypse. Why, then, have international and national environmental protection policies stalled?
Though these doomsday prophecies have been covered by the media, depending on the orientation, the topic of climate change is given quite different coverage. Justified by the journalistic appeals to balance and fair treatment, skeptics are often given equal coverage with scientists. The controversy and polarization of climate change have become just as newsworthy as climate change itself and serve as political obstacles to environmental protection policies.
The clip from the Colbert Report satirizes the opposition and contrariness that has become typical of Republican politicians. "The Word: Sink or Swim" contextualizes a law since approved by North Carolina Republicans that provides direct political oversight on climate change research. In response to a recent scientific consensus that sea levels will rise up to 1 meter by 2100, North Carolina has made it illegal to use these predictions for property evaluation. Acting as a climate-skeptic Republican, Colbert applauds North Carolina for hiding from the facts and using political power to change the reality of climate change. He doubts the research of the "so-called ‘scientists’", and is concerned only with his beachfront property. The abandonment of science as authority and the reliance on political power to change the truth reflects the polarization surrounding the issue of climate change.
The North Carolina law is just one example of the separation of environmental action along party lines. It is now all but fact that Republicans are traditionally skeptical of climate change policies (see Gauchat, 2012; Jacques, 2009) and Democrats are traditionally supportive. Additionally, the prevalence of this polarization in the news media cannot be ignored.
Focusing on the controversy and the inability for politicians to communicate removes attention from the true issue: preventing and mitigating the effects of climate change. If Republicans and Democrats are trapped in gridlock exacerbated by media coverage, the consequences may be irreversible, the issue may forever remain unsolved, and the world may be vulnerable to catastrophic threats to its survival.