Your Stance on Global Warming Has Come to Define Your Identity as Either a Democrat or a Republican
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Despite the ever growing scientific consensus about the nature and urgency of global warming, Americans remain more divided politically on the matter than at anytime in history. The reason is that personal views on global warming have come to define what being a Democrat or Republican means. As GOP leaders continue to attack the science of global warming, and Democratic leaders like Al Gore continue to emphasize the urgency of the climate crisis, stances on global warming among the public have hardened into "political identity markers."
Thus, what it "means" to be Republican is to identify yourself as in opposition to policy action on global warming. The more staged partisan spectacles that occur, like Gore's Congressional testimony or Senator James Inhofe's Fox & Friends appearances, the more integrated and stable these identity markers become.
And now, the Supreme Court just made matters worse.
Across polls, the gap in perceptions between Dems and Republicans is roughly forty to fifty percentage points, and a similar divide can be found in the many organized debates going on across college campuses. Yesterday it showed up again in a 5-4 vote at the Supreme Court.
The ruling by the Supreme Court that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant will be heralded as a major event in shaping public perceptions, but in reality little, if anything, will change.
What will be picked up by the conservative commentators, broadcast by Fox News, and trumpeted by the Wall Street Journal is the decision by the GOP icons of the court--including Chief Justice Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas-- to dissent. As the NY Times reports, Roberts in his dissent emphasized the ever familiar "scientific uncertainty" frame, even though he argued that the central principle guiding his interpretation was legal standing, rather than the science behind global warming:
Contrary to what the majority held, the plaintiffs failed to show a cause-and-effect relationship between global warming and actual injury, the chief justice wrote. For instance, he dismissed as "pure conjecture" a plaintiffs' assertion that Massachusetts is gradually losing its coastal territory to higher sea levels generated by global warming.
Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post also picks up on this partisan split at the court:
The decision in Commonwealth of Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al . also reinforced the division on the Supreme Court, with its four liberal members in the majority and its four most conservative members dissenting. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's role as the key justice in this term's 5 to 4 decisions was again on display, as he sided with Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter.
Here's how Beth Daley of the Boston Globe characterizes the reasoning behind the dissent of the reliably Republican members of the court:
Most of the dissent centered on whether individual states could use the federal courts to address their complaints. Roberts wrote that Congress and the executive branch, not the courts, should address the states' concerns about the EPA's lack of regulation. He stressed that his position involves "no judgment" on global warming.
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