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Why is climate change prioritized significantly below other issues? Is it because it is not as much of an immediate issue than, for example, reducing the government debt, raising the minimum wage, and fighting a foreign, short-term terrorist threat?

Climate change scientists and experts have revealed powerful, shocking proofs and consequences about global warming that make it seem like this issue is extremely critical in a jurisdiction, especially one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions: the United States.

I understand there are many individuals that persist to deny this global crisis, but I want to put this question on the very real basis that global warming exists. I also want to geographically base this question in North America, particularly in the US.

So, why is this issue made so unimportant by governments, even those who believe in the existence of climate change? Is the issue of climate change as controversial and influential as the issue of slavery and civil rights in the past, and should it?

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    Because politics is often about short term gains--not long term planning. – user1530 Aug 1 '15 at 18:23
  • Because climate change changes everything. – Martin Schröder Aug 6 '15 at 8:42
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    If you look throughout history, what problem in the past was really solved by making everyone poorer? Which society is better equipped to fight large-scale catastrophes - a poor one or a rich one? Can we really put all our stakes on just one possible problem, while ignoring all the others? There used to be a time where a bad summer in Europe meant millions of people died. Do you want that to come back? In the past, even environmental problems were solved by making everyone richer - that's how factories got cleaner, how we changed horses for cars, and today, how people are turning vegetarian. – Luaan Nov 10 '16 at 12:48
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Why is stopping climate change prioritized significantly below the economy and other issues?

Why is climate change prioritized significantly below other issues? Is it because it is not as much of an immediate issue than, for example, reducing the government debt, raising the minimum wage, and fighting a foreign, short-term terrorist threat?

It's worth pointing out that many of your examples are difficult to do and face resistance. Talking about reducing debt is popular but few have done it and most of the proposals extend far into the future, avoiding near term cuts.

Fighting foreign terrorism is easier in some ways cause the president has power to enact a limited action without any congressional approval. There's also organizations like the CIA and branches of the Military that are already funded and it's their job to investigate and prevent terrorism. Part of that is already deemed a necessary expense and it's part of the government budget.

Minimum wage has only been taken up in a few select locations. It's faced a lot of resistance on the national levels.


Now, I think minimum wage has a pretty good chance of being addressed in the next few years. The deficit and climate change, maybe not, and I would look at those 2 issues as quite similar in a reluctance to fix now vs pass on to later.

Climate change scientists and experts have revealed powerful, shocking proofs and consequences about global warming that make it seem like this issue is extremely critical in a jurisdiction, especially one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions: the United States.

Something to consider, when polled, on average people don't feel that this is a critical issue. (Source 1) (Source 2). So, to a certain extent, politicians are listening to what people consider important.

It's also, generally true that the environmental lobby is not particularly powerful, so in addition to voters not considering it a top priority, there's no political muscle fighting for it either. There's no climate change equivalent of the NRA, for example.

I understand there are many individuals that persist to deny this global crisis, but I want to put this question on the very real basis that global warming exists. I also want to geographically base this question in North America, particularly in the US.

The power of the deniers shouldn't be underestimated. There are also powerful special interest groups that fight climate change and could make it difficult for a republican to say "We should do something about climate change". I don't mean to call out only the republicans, cause both parties have bases that they cater to. But to address climate change in the US, you need 50% of the house, usually 60% of the senate and the president, and on top of that, you likely need an international agreement that seems fair enough to get those numbers.

Kyoto wasn't ratified in the US, but it's not precisely because it was voted down, but because another resolution that required global effort had been voted up first and Kyoto exempted a number of countries - so it really was more of a grey area than a hard no, though when Bush became Pres, it went a lot closer to a hard no.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto_Protocol#US_position

So, why is this issue made so unimportant by governments, even those who believe in the existence of climate change?

You wanted to focus on the US, but some nations, mostly in Europe have made a sincere effort to address climate change. Germany in particular invested heavily in solar power, perhaps too heavy and too early from an economic perspective as prices have fallen quite a bit since they began installations.

Ironically, while Europe has done the most effort to address climate change, the US, due in large part to the Natural gas boom, has actually reduced their carbon footprint more, but we shouldn't forget the biggest looser aspect of that. The person with the most weight to lose is more likely to lose more weight. Nobody should be patting the US on the back for our reductions, even if they are bigger reductions. We're still very fat - so to speak. Reduction can actually be hard, in a growing economy and economies and populations to tend towards growth, so, even with effort, achieving reduction can be difficult.

Is the issue of climate change as controversial and influential as the issue of slavery and civil rights in the past, and should it?

It's not nearly as emotional an issue, though some people think it should be. Following Hurricane Sandy, New York City spent billions on flood preparation. The Netherlands has been developing flood prevention methods for years, given that much of the country is below sea level and they've come up with some very clever anti-flood strategies, but 3rd world countries mostly have far more basic things they'd like to spend money on, so they remain vulnerable. This is what the pope was talking about when he said that climate change was a moral issue and a poverty issue.

A very similar question could be asked, why doesn't the US do more to address poverty in the 3rd world. The bottom line, for better or worse, is that it's not a priority. We spend something, but it's a pretty small share of what we spend overall.

and I have to admit, even for me and I'm an environmentalist, I have a hard time seeing climate change as an immediate and moral risk and part of that, for me at least, is because, with today's technology, fixing climate change is impossible. Certainly it will take time.

The quickest fix for climate change is probably replacing coal with Nuclear. Obama and McCain were both keen on that idea in 2008 though in 2008 the US had far bigger issues so it wasn't addressed and when the Earthquake in Japan and the Fukushima nuclear disaster happened, well, that put the kibosh on any new nuclear plants being built. It's still considered by some a possible part of the solution, but it's not very popular right now.

Another problem with replacing coal in the US is that coal states object. 3rd world countries also like coal because it's the cheapest and most reliable way to generate electricity. Solar and wind may be cheaper to set up, but they aren't consistent and electricity really needs to be consistent. To feed 3rd world supplies a conservative prime minister of Australia recently approved one of the worlds largest coal mining operations - needless to say, that wasn't a universally popular idea.

So, the "fix" is very large. Replacing coal generated electricity is no small thing and that's probably the first step. Making electricity as carbon-neutral as possible and encouraging electricity use over oil & gas use by financial incentive would be a substantial 2nd step, perhaps encouraging electric cars and certainly high speed electric rail, but both of those require significant infrastructure investment.

So that's the problem in a nut-shell. It's not just that deniers deny that the problem is real, the other side of it is that, even if everyone in Washington agreed that climate change needed to be fixed, it would be an enormously expensive undertaking that would require massive infrastructure investment in the US and in the 3rd world. To fully address it, it would be a huge undertaking. Nothing that big has been done in the US since, perhaps, the space program - which, at the time, our nation's competitive feelings against the Russian's and desire to be #1 and desire to land on the moon, that was quite popular. Addressing climate change wound need an effort likely quite a bit larger than that. It's not nearly so simple as saying "yes, lets do something", it would be an enormous and tremendously expensive commitment to actually address it in the way it needs to be addressed.

Add to that, we're not quite sure how bad it will be or how fast it will get bad, it's a tough sell.

At least, those are my thoughts on the subject.

  • Down-voter, please comment. – userLTK Mar 12 '16 at 10:29
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The reason why politicians place a low priority on global warming is, because the public places a low priority on global warming. Beginning in 2007, when Pew began including it their poll of top priorities in the USA, it has ranked either last or near last. Only about a third (+/- 3% sampling error) of the U.S. public considers it a top priority. Where as, strengthening the economy, improving the job situation, and fighting terrorism ranks at the top with 80% of the public considering it a priority. Pew Poll:Public top priority percentage 2001-2010

The top priority rankings haven't changed much in recent years, although some of the highest ranked top priorities fell a few percentage points and global warming increased a few (+/- 2.9% sampling error).

The issue of climate change isn't controversial. The scientific data is clear that the planet is warming. What isn't clear is if the effects of global warming with be as catastrophic as the cost of trying to prevent global warming.

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The problem with taking action against climate change is that any specific action a government could take would be unpopular with the industry, the consumers, or both.

  • Clean energy would mean higher energy prices for both consumers and industry
  • Fuel-saving cars would be less powerful and more expensive
  • Forcing people to use public transportation would be inconvenient for them
  • Regulating carbon-heavy industry would drive them out of the country which would cost lots of jobs and tax income while not really helping as those would just be rebuilt elsewhere where they create just as much carbon as before.
  • Supporting climate-friendly products with state subsidiaries would need to be paid for with higher taxes

Meanwhile, neither industry nor private people in most developed countries feel any direct impact of global warming yet. As long as there is no direct suffering (like with air- and water pollution in the 80s and 90s), there is no willingness to take cutbacks to stop the suffering. People who marginalize the problem or deny it altogether doesn't help much in this regard either (and one of them has good chances to become the next US president).

While many people understand that something needs to be done to stop climate change, they don't necessarily understand that this means that this needs to affect them, their wallets and their quality of life.

That's why politicians are careful with proposing laws to reduce carbon emissions. While it might be necessary in the long run, in the short run such laws will just hurt them politically.

  • Do you have evidence for any of these statements? some I've seen evidence for them being incorrect. – Avi Aug 2 '15 at 1:59
  • I think you're generally right, but not 100%. For example, building smaller cars, which saves fuel can also result in cheaper cars to build and purchase. Car pooling can save money but the tradeoff is that it costs time. "Forcing" people to use public transportation is one thing, improving public transportation so that more people want to use it is quite another. Also, reducing fuel costs can save an industry money in the long term. But, a lot of these are complex issues with some truth to what you say. I don't mean to sound over-critical. – userLTK Aug 2 '15 at 4:40
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    "Clean energy would mean higher energy prices for both consumers and industry" -> I'd say, that is a wrong statement. The nuclear energy policy of the United States is supported by the government through tax breaks and fundings. This is not special about the US, other contries or union of states like the EU do the same. So in the end the nuclear or coal energy is often not cheaper, but better supported financially. – Sir Sy Aug 2 '15 at 9:45
  • and some of your other aspects are also questionable, Forcing people to use public transportation would be inconvenient for them -> by offering a public transportation system that works well people are willing to use it (it saves money and time) – Sir Sy Aug 2 '15 at 10:31
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    Donald Trump has a good chance to be the next US president. HA! – lazarusL Aug 3 '15 at 13:55

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