Caring about climate change is selfish

By Madeline Troxell

Updated: 1 hour ago Published: 1 hour ago

CIRI, Fire Island, Fire Island Wind, alternative energy, renewable energy, wind energy, wind farm, wind power

Climate change is a deeply polarizing issue. But why is this the case? Other historically notable forms of politically disputed science, such as evolution, are divisive because of their connection to religious or moral conviction.

I believe that climate change is polarizing because there is a disconnect between political parties about the perceived moral necessity of preventing climate change. Americans can reap numerous benefits as a byproduct of preventing climate change. Thus, caring about climate change does not make any person or political party more noble than another, it simply makes them more selfish.

The reason for the polarization relates to “solution aversion.” This term, coined by Campell and Kay in their study determining the relationship between ideology and motivated disbelief, relates to “downplaying or outright denying a problem based on whether its solution fits in a specific current belief structure.” Our two parties disagree on why we should be solving climate change. Republicans and Democrats are so involved in their own party politics that they cannot see past their argument of the relative importance of preventing climate change to notice the massive benefits the solutions would have for the human race.

To increase bipartisanship in this area, we must shift the perceived outcome of the solution to the problem. Simply accelerating the transition to renewable energy would have countless benefits for the average American. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that requiring the country to produce 25% of all electricity from renewable sources by 2025 would create 300,000 U.S. jobs, generate 263 billion dollars in new capital investment, and build $12 billion in new local tax revenues.

Nevermind the benefits that clean energy has on the environment or in slowing global warming. Better energy efficiency has helped families and businesses lower their energy bills. The EPA’s Energy Star program subsidizes consumers who replace old appliances with more efficient ones, or who make other more sustainable changes to their homes. These changes alone have saved Americans an estimated 16 billion dollars on energy bills. So we can ignore the fact that Energy Star certified buildings contribute, on average, 35% less greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

If a prosperous economy is not the solution that you are looking for, try public health benefits. Creating standards of emissions could help reduce the levels of mercury and other heavy metals, or fine particulate matter from polluting our air. It would also slow global warming, arguably as a byproduct of our efforts to better public health. The Montreal Protocol, an international agreement that phased out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, has avoided an estimated 1.5 million cases of skin cancer and prevented 330,000 skin cancer deaths. It also protects the ozone layer and prevents the potent hydrofluorocarbons from contributing to global warming, but need not be at the forefront of the discussion.

Preventing climate change does not have to be a polarizing political issue, if only we replace environmental concerns with an appeal to more human interests, such as economic prosperity or public health. Questions of climate change’s legitimacy or relevance can be tossed out the window when we reframe these issues in a self interested way. This approach has proved successful in Republican counties across the country.

The University of Dakota surveyed more than 200 local governments in 10 predominantly Republican U.S. states, and found that more than half were running initiatives that reduce our contribution to global warming. These policies, however, were seldom positioned as climate change programs but were instead branded as economic development, resource management or public health initiatives.

A conservative town in Texas called Sweetwater produces enough wind energy to power more than 500,000 homes, yet only 40% of its residents think that scientists have reached a consensus that global warming is happening. Further, 80% of America’s wind farms are located in Republican-voting congressional districts, in areas that report some of the lowest acceptance levels of climate science in the U.S.

We do not have to collectively agree on the importance of climate change in order to take steps to prevent it. We do not need to care about the environment. We need only be self-interested.

Madeline Troxell, raised in Anchorage, is a student at Brigham Young University who is interested in the intersection of environmental science, government policy, scientific discoveries and activism.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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