How will climate change politics?

| 14th September 2020 |
XR Bristol College Green
Concerns about climate breakdown will progressively impact how people vote.

All of these numbers suggest that both the public and government may be receptive to major climate action in the near future.


In 2018, California saw some of the deadliest and most costly wildfires on record. This year, the fire season in the US state is still underway, but it's already become the second most severe on record.

Scientists have warned that a warming climate is partly to blame for the severity of these fires — and that in the future, disasters of similar intensity may become annual events.

Climate breakdown is often discussed as a problem of the distant future — one that will change the world in decades from now, rather than years.


However, we're already beginning to see some of climate breakdown's early impacts in the form of intense wildfires, hurricanes and floods. Developing a better idea of what each degree of warming will mean for the world can help us combat these issues.

As soon as within the next few years, climate breakdown is liable to significantly impact the political world and how we think about government at every level.

Most Americans now believe in climate change. According to survey data from Pew Research, 52 percent of American adults believe dealing with climate change should be a "top priority for the president and Congress."

Data from Pew also showed that almost two-thirds of US adults believe stricter environmental regulations are worth the cost.

This wasn't always true — just 12 years ago, in 2008, only 30 percent of Americans thought climate change ought to be a top priority.  


These beliefs, however, aren't evenly distributed across the American population. Liberal-leaning adults are more likely to desire climate action than conservative-leaning ones, for example.

All of these numbers suggest that both the public and government may be receptive to major climate action in the near future.


The same can be said about millennials — who are more likely to support climate change legislation — and baby boomers, as well as women and men. 

These statistics translate decently to congressional representation. According to a 2019 report from Business Insider, 130 of 535 congresspeople — around 24 percent — expressed doubt about the reality of climate change. 

The opinion of the scientific community is less divided. Around 97 percent of all actively publishing climate scientists agree that human actions are changing the global climate.

They believe climate change will likely have major impacts on every aspect of life over the coming decades — or even within the next few years. 


Taken together, all of these numbers suggest that both the public and government may be receptive to major climate action in the near future.

Global warming will likely begin influencing politics within the next few years as natural disasters grow more intense.

For example, best practices for hurricane preparedness will likely become very familiar to those living on the coast. This could make it easier for local climate and environmental activists to push for greater climate action.

The less abstract a threat is, the easier it may be for community activists to convince voters to support initiatives that help reduce the impact of climate change and fortify the coast against increasingly dangerous natural disasters.

There's already some evidence that intensifying natural disasters are pressuring governments to act. In 2019, for example, California legislators passed a bill that put the state on track for 100 percent percent renewable energy by 2045.


The private sector, however, may continue to be a significant roadblock to climate action. Many major oil and gas companies are already preparing for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

However, while energy analysts anticipate that peak oil is coming sometime within the next few decades, these companies are likely in no rush to make such a costly shift before it's needed.

These businesses will likely resist major legislation that demands fast climate action. These measures include carbon taxes and environmental regulations that require companies to limit the amount of methane that escapes into the environment. 

Some effects of climate change are inevitable. We'll likely be dealing with more intense natural disasters for years to come, even with rapid climate action.


However, some of the worst effects scientists have predicted — like growing water scarcity, agricultural collapse and rising sea levels — are likely preventable with the right approach.

Legislation, like the bill passed in California, could put individual states — or the entire country — on track to replace fossil fuel-firing power plants with renewable energy. 

Other bills could also help better prepare areas vulnerable to natural disasters.

Initiatives like these could face pushback from the oil and gas sector, but the growing severity of natural disasters caused by climate change may be enough to convince voters.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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