On the evening of the New York primaries for the 2016 presidential campaign, three Boston College professors spoke about the presidential candidates’ respective views on climate change. The event, which was held in Devlin 010, was sponsored by EcoPledge.
Not many of the Republican candidates, Zygmunt J. B. Plater, a professor at BC Law School, said, believe that environmental issues are a priority. George Pataki had the strongest opinion on the issue but dropped out relatively early on in the race.
“We have a problem on our hands that is not minor,” Plater said. “But climate change, it seems to me, is a sleeping dragon.”
The reason why climate change has not come up in the campaigns, Plater said, is because all of the Republicans have similar opinions on the issue as do all of the Democrats. But he thinks that once the Republican and Democratic nominees are chosen, they will have to address the issue.
“It’s an opportunity to get the American public to deal, perhaps for the first time, very seriously with the issues of climate change,” Plater said.
In 1973, Plater said, the Republicans invited in the Evangelical Christians, who believed that environmentalism undermined God’s power. He was working in Washington, D.C., at the time and said that Evangelicals would walk around with posters that said Jesus did not like pollution regulations.
“They were lobbying against environmentalism,” he said.
Ted Cruz, Plater said, accused environmentalists of trying to form a new religion and that conversation on climate change should be kept out of politics. John Kasich, he said, somewhat admitted that there was a problem with climate change. Donald Trump, he said, claimed that climate change was false and made no sense.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, he said, understand the issue but also understand that America is not focused enough on the issues at hand. They have not clashed on their opinions on climate change because they are in agreement with one another, Plater said.
“Reporters want to see them have a clash, but they don’t have a clash,” he said.
There will be a clash, however, when the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee debate with one another.
David Deese, a professor in the political science department, has been studying other countries’ responses to climate change.
Because there had been a lack of national leadership with regard to climate change until the last few years, he said, he has studied the different initiatives taken at the state level. California, Texas, Massachusetts, Washington, and Oregon, Deese said, have all been outliers in their levels of effort to reduce climate change.
Another component we have to take into consideration, Deese said, is that this is all based on the politicians’ campaigns, which are not always indicative of what they will do in office.
“We have to make some guesses because campaigns don’t always exactly translate perfectly into governing,” Deese said.
Laurie Johnston, associate professor of theology at Emmanuel College, also agreed that we have to wait and see how the future government will respond to these issues.
The U.N. Conference in Paris last fall, she said, decided that militaries would no longer be automatically exempt from climate regulations, as they were in the past.
The military is much farther ahead of the government with regard to climate change, she said. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions comes from defense, but now with the new regulations, this number could be greatly reduced.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see how the American government approaches that question over the next couple of years,” she said.
Environmentalism also affects international politics, Johnston said. War can cause major damage to the environment, and climate change has played a role in the war in Syria, the refugee crisis in Europe, and many other recent international issues.
Although science supports the theory of climate change, Plater said, the environmentalists do not have the money or the media savvy to get their messages out to the public. This means that it will take a natural disaster to make the public aware of the reality of climate change.
“The science of it is clear, and the morality as well,” Plater said.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins