Environmental Issues: Scientific, Political, or Social Issues?

On January 30th, 2015, the United States Senate voted nearly unanimously that climate change IS real and NOT a hoax. This comes after decades of scientific research at top American universities, public protesting, and political lobbying from environmental groups aimed at decreasing our country’s destruction of the natural environment. In recent decades, the legitimacy of climate change has been challenged and debated as a political issue. Environmental groups have been supported by the Democratic Party (and the Green Party), and Republican leaders have mainly fought against any sort of environmental legislation. In fact, even after the Senate finally decided that climate change is indeed real, in a separate vote Republicans and Democrats were split on whether climate change is caused by humans or not — something that 97% of climate scientists agree on.

American politicians, and the American public, are in a state of cognitive dissonance when it comes to environmental problems (especially climate change). A recent poll found that only 33% of the American public considers climate change to be a serious problem, compared to 75% of scientists. President Obama even devoted a significant portion of his State of The Union speech to climate change, saying “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

Yet, today a Senate hearing held to discuss the EPA’s proposed regulations limiting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants was largely spent questioning the legitimacy of climate change and the administration’s commitment to the issue. Sen. Roger Wicker compared scientists’ claims about climate change to doctors in the early 1900's telling patients that smoking cigarettes was healthy. The example he used was even from the fictional movie “The King’s Speech,” making the comparison even more denigrating to climate scientists.

As individuals, we’re all allowed to have our own opinion on every issue. But when the opinions of our government’s leaders are in contradicion with the advice they get from our top scientists, it seems that no significant progress can ever be made on environmental issues. At least in politics. Many private businesses have taken the initiative to “go green” and they’ve benefitted from it. Alternative energy has been proving itself to be economically valuable, and the organic food market has expanded with the popularity of chains such as Whole Foods. Perhaps the best solution for the United States is to let the market forces of supply and demand for environmentally friendly goods determine our country’s progression on environmental issues. This probably wouldn’t move as quickly as environmental activists and scientists would hope, but neither has our government so far.

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