Influences shaping climate change discourse in the United States

One of the topics that had garnered media space in recent months is the issue of global warming. Without doubt it is one of the critical issues facing humanity. If solutions are not identified and implemented urgently, irrevocable damage could occur to the prospects of the species as well as the larger habitable environment. There are different stakeholders involved, including the policymakers, media, general public, the business community and the scientific community. The direction of the future discourse on the subject would depend on persuasiveness and collective representation of each of these groups. What follows is an evaluation of their relative ‘weight’ in terms of shaping the discourse on climate change. Newspapers such as New York Times and Washington Times were perused for this exercise.

The scientific community performs the crucial role of studying the problem and accurately projecting the future implications. But they have relatively weak influence over the policy decision of the executive and legislative branches of government. Even within the scientific community there can be lack of consensus (some of which is politically motivated) which undermine the authority of the group as a whole. Even those scientists who make appearance as ‘talking heads’ in the media, are often chosen on the basis of their political affiliation and not on professional merit. While scientists are the primary generators of data and analysis on the subject of climate change, their influence to shape and bring awareness to the debate is quite muted.

The ‘special interests’ (a euphemism for the business community) is often the most powerful in influencing policy. The multi-billion dollar lobbying industry works night and day to draft, pass and enact laws that are favorable to their business clients – these are industry confederations or large individual corporations. Either way, the outcome of lobbying is seldom consistent with recommendations based on concern for sustainability. Hence the business lobby holds a considerable sway over government policy. When we consider that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are mostly funded by business corporations, the latter’s influence over the former becomes obvious.

In the newspaper reports perused to get a pulse on the climate change issue, it is learnt that public opinion is largely in opposition to policy thrust. In a mockery of democracy, the elected representatives are utterly indifferent to the wishes of their constituency. While most citizens want a cleaner, greener, environment, the Congressmen and Senators are least willing to oblige their constituents’ demands. Public opinion polls consistently reflect a deep disconnect between public will and public policy.

Finally, when we scrutinize the role of the media itself in influencing policy, it turns out to be a disappointment. Often held up as the ‘fourth pillar’ of democracy, American media, which is largely comprised of privately owned corporations, is driven by market forces and political affiliations. In this atmosphere of commercial and political agenda bearing heavily upon them, media houses is no more than propaganda machinery for said interests. Media has become incapable of performing a distanced, neutral and objective assessment of the climate change issue.