Climate Change Caused by Humans
How to Talk to a Conservative
about Climate Change

I spend a lot of time posting comments on blogs to convince people that humans are causing global warming (AGW) and that immediate reduction of GHG emissions is required to prevent tragic consequences. There are three choices the world has to deal with the consequences of AGW:

  1. A really statist, tyrannical approach to climate stabilization would be to create a new international agency with broad powers to micromanage the world's industry and transportation sectors.
  2. A regulated, market-based solution such as a carbon tax or a cap and trade system with concessions to developing countries such as China and India. Solution #2 has enjoyed great success in Europe but has faced fierce political opposition in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, namely by conservatives.
  3. A business-as-usual solution where reducing GHGs is optional.

I have noticed that people of conservative/libertarian political orientation are generally unconvinced about the science of climate change so only solution #3 is acceptable. Conservatives that do trust the science may not trust their governments to efficiently govern a cap and trade solution. The concern by these conservatives is that, because we are a fossil fuel-based economy, regulation of emissions will increase taxes and hurt the economic standing of their nation. These conservatives also endorse solution #3.

Am I picking on conservatives? No. Research supports my experience. In their 2008 national survey titled A Deeper Partisan Divide Over Global Warming, The Pew Center for the People & the Press show that only 27% of Republicans believe that global warming is being caused by humans compared to 58% of Democrats. Even more disturbing, only 19% of Republican college graduates say that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming and it is caused by human activity compared to 88% of Democrats who are college graduates. A study by Kahan, et al. (2007) called The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of - and Making Progress In - The American Culture War of Fact ( reveals that people of conservative or libertarian ideology are the most skeptical of global warming and its consequences. Kahan, et al. further conclude:

"Individuals' expectations about the policy solution to global warming strongly influences their willingness to credit information about climate change. When told the solution to global warming is increased antipollution measures, persons of individualistic and hierarchic worldviews become less willing to credit information suggesting that global warming exists, is caused by humans, and poses significant societal dangers. Persons with such outlooks are more willing to credit the same information when told the solution to global warming is increased reliance on nuclear power generation."

Few people, conservative or liberal, would endorse solution #1 for obvious reasons and solution #3 certainly cannot mitigate the negative effects of AGW. We must send the message to conservatives that solution #2 is in their best interest. Perhaps in doing so, some of the skeptics may begin to accept the science because the solution has become acceptable.


Military and intelligence organizations from the U.S. have concluded that global climate change poses a serious national security threat for many nations. For more information see the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) study titled The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change and theCenter for Naval Analysisstudy titled:National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. Gwynne Dyer in his book Climate Wars also details the geopolitical impact of climate change. He paints a dire picture.

More recently (April 2010) 33 of the top generals and admirals in the United States signed the statement that appears below:

Click for Larger Image
Click for larger image.

Climate change is making the world a more dangerous place.

"It's threatening America's security. The Pentagon and security leaders of both parties consider climate disruption to be a "threat multiplier" - it exacerbates existing problems by decreasing stability, increasing conflict, and incubating the socioeconomic conditions that foster terrorist recruitment. The State Department, the National Intelligence Council and the CIA all agree, and all are planning for future climate-based threats.

America�s billion-dollar-a-day dependence on oil makes us vulnerable to unstable and unfriendly regimes.

A substantial amount of that oil money ends up in the hands of terrorists. Consequently, our military is forced to operate in hostile territory, and our troops are attacked by terrorists funded by U. S. oil dollars, while rogue regimes profit off of our dependence. As long as the American public is beholden to global energy prices, we will be at the mercy of these rogue regimes. Taking control of our energy future means preventing future conflicts around the world and protecting Americans here at home.

It is time to secure America with clean energy. We can create millions of jobs in a clean energy economy while mitigating the effects of climate change across the globe. We call on Congress and the administration to enact strong, comprehensive climate and energy legislation to reduce carbon pollution and lead the world in clean energy technology."

Climate Change and National Security Peter Sinclair's Climate Crock of the Week: Climate Change and National Security

In the "business as usual" solution #3 where emissions of GHGs continue to rise, the following consequences are realistic:

  1. China and India pass the US as economic superpowers
  2. Increased immigration
  3. Higher food costs
  4. Greater government subsidies (higher taxes)
  5. Higher insurance rates
  6. Increased authoritarian governments
  7. Increased terrorism
  8. Nuclear proliferation
  9. Regional and global wars between countries with nuclear weapons
  1. The fact that China does not support a strong international agreement to reduce GHGs should be an alarm bell to those who feel threatened by the rise of China as a world superpower. In a business as usual scenario, China becomes the next superpower using cheap, dirty coal and global warming worsens. It is a lose-lose proposition for the West and the world.
  2. The United States' trade deficit is approximately $800 billion with $350 billion of this due to imported fuel oil. Because a large portion of this $350 billion is being sent to Middle Eastern governments, it is a certainty that some of these funds are finding their way into the hands of terrorists. Reducing the use of fossil fuels is a win-win: the US decreases its trade deficit and reduces the indirect US funding of terrorists.
  3. Due to expanding drought, ever-increasing numbers of immigrants enter the U.S. and Canada from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean creating political turmoil and dividing these nations. Securing the border will be expensive and will divert military resources from abroad at a time when tensions are running high around the world.
  4. Due to increasing and wide-spread drought and frequent flooding, crop failures increase the cost for food to the general public and massive government subsidies (charity) must be used to prop up the collapsing agriculture industry thus increasing taxes on the general public.
  5. Agriculture may end in central California as rivers fail due to the lack of summer snowmelt from the Sierra and Rocky Mountains.
  6. Inexorable decline of ground water reserves, particularly in India and China, but also the USA. If agriculture is hit in places like California due to AGW, this will only increase the pressure on things like the Oglallah Aquifer under the Plains states.
  7. Fisheries worldwide collapse as oceans acidify, corals bleach and die, and coastal wetlands are destroyed by inundation. Food costs rise and there will be political pressure to subsidize the failing fishing industry - a cost that average citizens will bear.
  8. Rising sea levels flood our largest ports. Stronger hurricanes batter the coast and heavy floods inundate cities and communities along our major rivers. Insurance rates rise and taxes increase to pay for the recovery and to move ports inland.
  9. In Latin America, severe climate change will likely lead to fewer democratic governments and more "Chavez-like" ones.
  10. Authoritarian regimes will become increasingly popular in Europe, especially in Russia, as these types of politicians will exploit people's misery and direct anger toward the US which caused much of the global warming.
  11. Fundamentalists Islamic groups will increasingly gain support from desperate people who wish to punish the US for causing their misfortunes. What costs will we bear to combat the terrorism that undoubtedly results?
  12. Increased regional and global wars are likely. Will the US stand by and watch or will we be plunged into several wars? Areas of concern:

When countries are fighting over dwindling resources there is little hope that the world will come together to fix the problem. That is why action is required now. Mitigating the impact of climate change will be expensive but it appears that doing nothing at all could be far more costly in terms of food costs and more taxes, increased terrorism against the US, and the lives of our sons and daughters as they are sent to fight in the increasing numbers of conflicts around this warmer world.

A few good links regarding climate change impacts:
IPCC WGII: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
Global Climate Change - Impacts in the United States (U.S. Global Change Research Program)
Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate (CCSP, 2008)
National Security and the Threat of Climate Change (Center for Naval Analysis)

Solution #2 is the least costly solution and has enjoyed success in Europe, especially in Denmark. Please see: The Copenhagen That Matters by Thomas L. Friedman in today�s NY Times.

An excerpt:

Although it still generates the majority of its electricity from coal, since 1990, Denmark has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent. Over the same time frame, Danish energy consumption has stayed constant and Denmark's gross domestic product has grown by more than 40 percent. Denmark is the most energy efficient country in the E.U.; due to carbon pricing, through energy taxes, carbon taxes, the "cap and trade" system, strict building codes and energy labeling programs. Renewable resources currently supply almost 30 percent of Denmark's electricity. Wind power is the largest source of renewable electricity, followed by biomass.  Today, Copenhagen puts only 3 percent of its waste into landfills and incinerates 39 percent to generate electricity for thousands of households.

Cap and trade has also worked in the US with regard to sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. SO2 emissions lead to acid rain and during the 1980s, acid rain was devastating lakes and forests in the east. In 1988, Congress passed a cap and trade scheme to reduce these emissions by 50%. By 2004, regulated polluters reduced their emissions by 40% more than required! The Dept. of Energy estimates that the cost to limit emissions ended up being a mere 0.6 percent of the polluters operating expenses. (Gore, 2009)

Next: Summary of Key Points

Scott A. Mandia
Professor - Physical Sciences
T-202 Smithtown Sciences Bldg.
533 College Rd.
Selden, NY 11784
(631) 451-4104

Last Updated: 11/7/18