EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been the target of media attention as the ethicality of his decisions as pilot of the agency have come into question. This scrutiny conceals a much larger issue about climate change: The differing opinions between the Republican and Democratic parties on the matter. Their polarized opinions, staples of their platforms, have paved the way for environmental attitudes on both the national and global scale. Common knowledge produces a rather basic paradigm: Liberals are more environmentally conscious and active supporters of environmental regulations that will preserve the environment not only for them, but for their children. Conservative opponents are more doubtful, holding that climate change has not been caused by human activity nor is it important, for environmental regulations will hinder the operations of a free market. This, however, is not the entire tale. Rather, it is more accurate to comprehend the conservative opinion not as a rejection of climate change, but as a refusal to consider it on the political table.
The environmental movement, or “going green,” was introduced popularly a decade ago by former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” of which a sequel was released last year. The liberal position on climate change has persisted in a progressive form, and has produced laws regulating emissions standards for vehicles and factories and a promotion of alternative energy sources to fossil fuels, including solar, wind and water power. Even as the environmental movement spread nationwide, some conservatives continued to resist it for a number of reasons, including a dismissal of the claim that it is caused by human activity.
This, however, is not their only claim. In the face of substantial science on the subject, many Republicans do acknowledge the realities of pollution and its effects on the environment. Still, they reject climate change itself. It is partly an issue of framing that makes it so unacceptable to them. The intent of specific questions like those that ask if climate change will happen or if it poses a threat to society are questionable. Attitudes toward “global warming” are different than those toward “climate change.” However, the core Republican belief is not solely one of bias or scientific rejection. Even as younger Republicans are becoming more supportive of the issue, this opinion is not shared by the party elite. Although educated individuals in both parties share opinions toward social issues like abortion and gay marriage, party opinions toward environmentalism diverge with education, indicating that it is not science that informs them, but the political opinions of their leaders. The issue of environmentalism is, then, a political one.
Why exactly do the Democratic and Republican parties differ on their opinions toward climate change in the face of credible science? One opinion is religious — many Christian evangelicals feel that it is a force of nature greater than mankind. With a miracle, God will resolve the issue if it exists. Others view it as a “fake science;” as Trump removed himself from the Paris Accord, it seemed as if the United States was the only nation not taking climate change seriously. This dismissal of science is not a factual folly, but rather demonstrates the Republican belief that it has no place in political discourse — it is not important in the itinerary of conservative values.
The Solyndra scandal was the perfect setup for modern Republican belief: Riding the alternative energy wave, government investment of taxpayer funds to Solyndra were lost as the company went bankrupt due to deceptive policies and overconfidence in what appeared to be a shining new industry. Not only was there a taxpayer burden, but it furthered the belief that the government should not be involved in promoting either alternative energy businesses or environmentalism.
Republicans have combated environmental regulations like emissions standards, tax programs and national park designations, congruent with a platform that espouses small government and free enterprise. Including climate change, however real, in the political process would be an impediment to the party’s success. Containing a majority of fossil fuel businessmen, the Republican Party continues to ignore climate change so as not to divert their party’s attentions away from its constituents’ platform. Congruently, it secures the U.S.’s ability to compete on an international level against the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), an organization which exerts extensive control on the worldwide supply of oil and its price. Even as some progressive nations continue to develop and implement alternative energy programs, the focus on profits remains primal. Progressive attitudes, however righteous, may only be outfitted in an environmental costume. Under its garments, the issue is purely economical and is understood by Republicans as such. They know that profit drives not only innovation, but progression. It is this that conservatives find salient, relegating environmentalism to the annals of liberal propaganda.