The Politics of US series: Climate change

Sixth in a 10-part weekly series. The Politics of US looks at polarizing topics to help deepen understanding of the issues – and respect for those with differing views. This installment examines why the partisan divide on climate change has widened in recent years. 

Amanda Paulson/The Christian Science Monitor
George Wallace stands on the 240-acre organic farm he has just outside of Fort Collins. Mr. Wallace is active on local water issues, and believes the addressing climate change is of utmost importance. He worries that too many people these days just "vote with their tribe" rather than really looking at an analyzing information. And Wallace thinks that, as the effects of climate change are more widely felt, irrigated-agriculture lands like Colorado's may be of particular importance, since they'll be less susceptible to drought, and that good management of the water in the area is key.
Follow us on Twitter @CSM_politics. Review the previous five installments, from guns to Muslim refugees, here.
In this week's edition:
  1. Cover story: Why climate change divides us 
  2. By the numbers: Where the world's climate skeptics live – in one chart
  3. Scientific perspective: 'Consensus' on climate change – what that does and doesn't mean
  4. Civics 101: Why Obama's Clean Power Plan faces constitutional challenge
  5. The candidates: How Clinton and Trump differ on fracking, offshore drilling, and more
  6. Engage: What does it mean to say someone is a climate change skeptic?
  7. Guest column: We got Al Gore and climate skeptics in a room. Here's what happened. 
  8. Our picks: "Aliens Cause Global Warming" – and more

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Why climate change divides us

By Amanda Paulson, Staff writer

FORT COLLINS AND GREELEY, COLO. — Kellie Falbo is tackling climate change one step at a time. That means lowering carbon emissions by driving a biodiesel vehicle, keeping a vegetable garden, and composting with worms.

Sure, those efforts by themselves won’t make much difference globally. But she sees a constellation of small steps here in the heart of Colorado’s Larimer County that can ripple outward to address an overwhelming challenge. 

About 30 miles southeast, in neighboring Weld County, Steve Wells looks out over very different picture. 

More than 600 oil and gas wells dot the flat grasslands that extend to the horizon of his 35,000-acre ranch. Many of them involve hydraulic fracturing.

He gets angry when he talks about the activists who would like to ban fracking but who have never come to talk to him or bothered to see that the water hasn’t been damaged and that wildlife is thriving. The income from those wells has made an enormous financial difference for Wells, allowing him to contribute to local charities.

As for man-made climate change? He doesn’t believe it is happening.

When it comes to global warming, the border between Weld and Larimer Counties might as well be a fault line. 

They are blue and red America in miniature, and their different approaches to climate change mirror the rift within America itself. 

Read more

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Story Hinckley/Staff
Story Hinckley/Staff
Story Hinckley/Staff

Also see climate opinion maps at the state, congressional district, and county levels made by Yale University's Project on Climate Change Communication. 

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Scientific perspective: 'Consensus' on climate change – what that does and doesn't mean

By Amanda Paulson, Staff

Discussions of climate change often pit two polarized sides talking past each other, split along partisan political lines.

Little wonder that it can seem hard to sift the answer to a fundamental question: Just how certain is the science, and how much do scientists agree?

When it comes to core concepts, the scientific agreement is broad and clear-cut: Climate change is happening. The Earth is getting warmer. Human activity is largely responsible.

When people talk about the “97 percent” consensus among international scientists, this is the fundamental issue to which they’re referring. Where the consensus starts to disappear is when it comes to more specific questions and predictions – how much and how quickly will temperature rise? What will the effects be for specific regions? Have we passed a point of no return, or can the changes be halted?

A few scientists worry aloud that a kind of groupthink and peer pressure is compromising public confidence in the quality of published research, as academics see their careers as tied to toeing acceptable lines.

But that critique isn't widely shared.

Read more

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CIVICS 101: Why Obama's Clean Power Plan faces constitutional challenge

By Christa Case Bryant, Staff writer

In August 2015, President Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan, calling it the “single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change.”

Six months later, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the plan, pending resolution of a legal challenge from 27 states and a number of energy interests (West Virginia v. EPA).

At issue is whether the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to implement the CPP, which is without legal precedent

One of the more prominent CPP critiques came from Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe. In testimony to Congress, he accused the EPA of “attempting an unconstitutional trifecta: usurping the prerogatives of the States, Congress and the Federal Courts - all at once. Burning the Constitution should not become part of our national energy policy.”

Read more

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THE CANDIDATES: Where they stand on climate change

We encourage you to contact the Monitor on Twitter @csm_politics or by email if you can improve our chart!

Story Hinckley/Staff

Sources: the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Gary Johnson campaign,, the Donald Trump campaign website, Jill Stein’s Twitter account, the Jill Stein campaign website, Fox News,, Donald Trump’s twitter account

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ENGAGE: Living Room Conversations and

Is there any common ground between environmentalists and climate change skeptics and deniers? Let's better understand different perspectives and each other so we can move forward together. Here are some tools and links to help.

  • For schools - discuss climate change in the classroom using this specialized lesson plan that teaches respectful dialog, fostering mutual respect and understanding. This program can be easily integrated into current curriculum, and includes various guides and online tools for making the class activity more engaging and revealing.

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GUEST COLUMN: We got Al Gore and climate skeptics in a room. Here's what happened.

By Mark Gerzon, Contributor 

Andrew Harnik/AP
Former Vice President Al Gore, center, arrives before a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Climate Action 2016 Summit at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Imagine for a moment this unlikely scenario.

Al Gore and his colleagues, who were about to release their movie An Inconvenient Truth, spent three days at a retreat center high in the Rocky Mountains with a team from the Competitive Enterprise Institute who had published attack ads dismissing the movie as a liberal lie.

Thanks to some remarkable allies from across the political spectrum, we were able to actually assemble a cross-section of stakeholders from across the spectrum of opinion on climate change. If one wants to understand what is truly going on behind the polarized political positions on this critical issue, the story of what unfolded between Mr. Gore and his critics offers some hopeful glimpses into a sustainable future.

Read more

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OUR PICKS: Recommended reading and viewing

1. "What about the planet?" New York Times op-ed by Paul Krugman, Pulitzer Prize-winning economist

Our two major political parties are at odds on many issues, but nowhere is the gap bigger or more consequential than on climate.… if Mrs. Clinton wins, it’s more or less certain that the [Obama administration’s] biggest moves yet — the Clean Power Plan, which would regulate emissions from power plants, and the Paris climate agreement, which commits all of the world’s major economies to make significant emission cuts — will become reality. Meanwhile, there’s Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly called climate change a hoax and has suggested that it was invented by China to hurt U.S. competitiveness. I wish I could say that this puts him outside the mainstream of his party, but it doesn’t.

2. "Denying the Climate Catastrophe," a 9-part series by Warren Meyer, author of the blog "Climate Skeptic"

Well, this notion that the ‘debate is over’ is one of those statements that is both true and not true. There is something approaching scientific consensus for certain parts of anthropogenic global warming theory…. But it turns out that other propositions that are important to the debate on man-made global warming are far less understood scientifically, and the near certainty on a few issues (like the existence of the greenhouse gas effect) is often used to mask real questions about these other propositions.

3. "'The Sixth Extinction’ by Elizabeth Kolbert," Al Gore’s review of this 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning book

Since the origin of life on earth 3.8 billion years ago, our planet has experienced five mass extinction events. The last of these events occurred some 66 million years ago when a six-mile-wide asteroid is thought to have collided with earth, wiping out the dinosaurs....Today, Kolbert writes, we are witnessing a similar mass extinction event happening in the geologic blink of an eye. According to E. O. Wilson, the present extinction rate in the tropics is ‘on the order of 10,000 times greater than the naturally occurring background extinction rate’ and will reduce biological diversity to its lowest level since the last great extinction. This time, however, a giant asteroid isn’t to blame — we are, by altering environmental conditions on our planet so swiftly and dramatically that a large proportion of other species cannot adapt.

4. "Climate Change Recalculated," by Saul Griffith, engineer and MacArthur Fellow

Griffith has done the research and the math to figure out exactly what it will take for humanity to soften the impact of climate change in the next 25 years, and he lays it out in a dazzling presentation.  It is horrifying news.  The politics and technologies we have now are not up to the task.

5. "Aliens Cause Global Warming," a 2003 talk at CalTech by the late author Michael Crichton

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

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