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
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.
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.