On Tuesday, November 2, 2010, the United States went to the polls for their mid-term elections. As predicted, the Republicans were able to capture a decisive majority in the House, while the Democrats retained the Senate with a slim majority. This now paves the way for the Republican Party to advance their conservative agenda. While this has many ramifications on the internal political and social front for the United States, the issue of concern here is what effect this will have on action and legislation to protect the environment. In particular, a critical concern is action on climate change.
Unfortunately, the news is not good for the environment. A vast majority of elected Republicans do not accept the concept of climate change, in particular the idea that it is due to human activity. This is despite the overwhelming consensus among the scientists who actually study the environment and climate.
The Republican Party has often stood against providing money for alternative energy, and instead has championed increasing the exploitation of fossil fuel, including coal and off-shore oil. The Republican Party has also often spoken against legislative action to limit greenhouse gas emission, or establish cap-and-trade programs. The argument generally boils down to economics – that enacting these measures will cost corporations too much, and that this will affect jobs and other corporate spending. While there is definitely a cost, it has to be looked at from a long-term perspective. There are costs associated with environmental inaction, from fishery depletion to spiraling fuel costs. Unfortunately, the environment has become a partisan issue.
Republicans have also declared their desire to put a limit on discretionary spending, so climate studies are expected to be one of the first areas to be cut under the new regime. Not only will this adversely affect the basic research itself, it will also damage the ability to find ways to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The American political climate is highly polarized at the moment. This prevents consensus and compromise. Any issue that receives support on one side of the House will be opposed by the other side, seemingly on general principals (If they like it, it must be bad).
For good or ill, America leads the world. American policies, indirectly or directly, affect almost everyone on the planet. As the biggest consumers of energy and other resources, American actions can have consequences seemingly out of proportion with the intent of the average American. The failure of the United States to act on climate change will adversely affect everyone.
There is some hope, though. The average American citizen accepts the idea of anthropocentric climate change. Perhaps, one day if the issue of the day ever comes down to the environment, if it ever becomes important enough, perhaps politicians will start listening.