Shift in the climate change zeitgeist

There has been long-standing opposition in the US to recognizing that anthropogenic climate change is a real phenomenon and needs to be taken seriously, with great efforts taken to discredit the research. The opponents have taken strength from the fact that religious ideas are strong in the US and a significant segment of the population are science skeptics and willing, even eager, to repudiate the conclusions and recommendations of the scientific community, even promoting cranks like Christopher Monckton, who was beautifully made fun of by an Australian TV show.

But recently, there seems to be a subtle shift. Republican politicians who used to vigorously oppose the idea have become more cautious about what they say.

These days, it takes careful parsing to pinpoint what Republican candidates believe about climate change.

The GOP’s Senate candidate in Michigan, Terri Lynn Land, issued a press release last month that declared global warming was “absolutely” a reality. Such an acknowledgment, on its face, would once have amounted practically to heresy for a party hostile to the science of climate change.

But as the dust settles on President Obama’s proposal to cut carbon emissions, her almost-but-not-quite embrace of climate-change science is indicative of a broader shift within the Republican Party—one that has shucked the defiant skepticism of its recent past for a nuanced view on the subject.

Certainly, base-wary Republicans haven’t gone all-in yet. Their adjustment, however, is no accident: While the science itself is largely the same, the politics of its legitimacy has turned against Republicans in all but the reddest of states.

Another sign of the shift is politicians starting to say that they are not scientists and thus avoiding debating people on the issue. Yet another is that local authorities are taking steps to combat the effects of climate change using euphemisms to avoid having the skeptics come out of the woodwork and scuttle their plans.

Another significant sign of a shift in the zeitgeist is that Hillary Clinton said in a speech that she thinks that climate change is real.

Clinton cast the threat of global climate change as real, and “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges” faced by the nation and the world.

“The data is unforgiving,” the former New York senator and first lady said to a standing room crowd of more than 800 people at a Las Vegas Strip resort. “No matter what the deniers try to assert. Sea levels are rising. Ice caps are melting. Storms, droughts and wildfires are wreaking havoc.”

While as Secretary of State she followed the Obama administration’s ambivalent attitude towards action on climate change., she is the consummate finger-to-the-wind politician, jumping on an issue only when it is safe to do so, so this is a good sign.


  1. Matt G says

    The Republicans were for it before they were against it before they were for it (and that was before they were against it).

  2. brucegee1962 says

    In ten or fifteen years, when the last of the Greenland ice sheet is disappearing into the sea and Norfolk is under water, I look forward to the day when Republicans retroactively stood firm against climate change from the very beginning. Surely if they repeat the claim often enough it will become true, right?

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