Research on global climate change has been going on for more than a hundred years, and scientists almost unanimously agree that our world is warming and that humans are the dominant cause.
So why, if this is the case, does public opinion not reflect this scientific assessment, and more importantly, why is the problem not being addressed with the urgency that the situation merits?
The answer to this question lies in politics and economics. The politics of our country have become increasingly dominated by money, by corporations.
The 2010 case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, further problematized the relationship between corporations and government. As long as economic giants continue to possess huge amounts of power in government, it will be difficult to effectively address the problems of global warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification.
One of the problems of global climate change is that the human actions that are causing it do not have immediately visible consequences.
For example, in the book “Merchants of Doubt” by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes,” a member of JASON — an independent group of scientists that advises the federal government on matters of science and technology — recalls being asked by colleagues: “When you go to Washington and tell them that the CO2 will double in 50 years and will have major impacts on the planet, what do they say?” His reply: “They ... ask me to come back in forty-nine years.”
Politicians do not see global warming as an immediate problem. And in some ways it is hard to blame them. Our country, and the entire world, faces so many problems that are readily visible that it is difficult to realize the gravity of a problem that is more difficult to see and define.
Another reason for not wishing to address global warming lies in economics and the principle of discounting. Discounting is based on the idea that a dollar in the present is more valuable to us than a dollar sometime in the future.
Furthermore, the changes that lawmakers must make today will potentially not yield noticeable results until the distant future. This introduces two problems.
First, it shows that money is what rules politics. Lawmakers rely on the support of companies for re-election, so they naturally wish to pass laws that will curry favor with large industries such as coal, oil, and gas.
As if this were not enough, the second problem is that the changes that today’s lawmakers institute may not have noticeable effects until many years after they die.
These two factors, economic reliance on corporations as well as a lack of immediate results, do little to incline lawmakers to make changes in policy that would help to reduce the effects of global climate change.
The Supreme Court did little to mitigate this problem when they ruled on the case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. Prior to this case, federal laws were in place that prevented corporations from spending their general treasury on political advertising campaigns.
However, this case repealed that decision and ruled that spending money to support political candidates was a form of free speech, and that corporations had the same rights of free speech as individuals do under the First Amendment.
Due to this ruling, corporations now have almost limitless power in government. And because those corporations include fossil fuels, there is significant pressure on politicians to make decisions that support these industries, rather than address the problems of climate change.
The corporate domination of our country’s politics proves detrimental to addressing global climate change on several levels. First, it causes global warming to be seen as a distant problem, something that is not worth spending money on today.
Second, it puts politicians in the pockets of large corporations, many of which do not see global warming as a priority that should be addressed.
While I believe that global warming is a huge, complex, multifaceted problem, I do think one step our nation can take is to reform our politics by reducing corporate influences, namely by passing legislation to essentially negate the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission.
If the interests of corporations did not rule politicians, it would be easier for them to make decisions based not on the economic interests of the rich, but on the environmental issues that affect us all.
Austin Biehl will be a sophomore this fall at Whitman College. He is a geology-biology combined major from Stanwood, Wash. Biehl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.