The politics of climate change in the United States

We examine the debate over climate change in the US and how the city of Miami is dealing with the effects now.

Receding glaciers, volatile weather, and rapid greenhouse gas accumulation all point towards human-induced climate change. In fact, 97 percent of published reports agree that climate change is fuelled by man-made greenhouse gases.

But while there is overwhelming consensus within the scientific community, climate change remains a contentious topic in politics in the United States. In this episode, TechKnow examines the debate over climate change.

Lindsay Moran travels to Washington DC to look at what is at stake in the debate.

Politicians fall into two camps: those who believe in human-induced climate change and those who don’t.

When asked why climate change is so politically charged, John Holden, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, tells us: “I think the most fundamental reason is this misperception that being in favour of addressing the climate change challenge is to be against jobs and the economy.”

As mayor I don't have the liberty or time to debate why climate change is happening. All I have is the opportunity to fix it ... That bay is not Republican, it's not Democrat, it knows no limits.

by Philip Levine, mayor, Miami Beach

Shini Somara heads to Miami, Florida, where there simply isn’t time for a debate over whether climate change is a legitimate threat. The state is already facing the immediate effects of rising sea levels.

According to climate scientist Ben Kirtman, Florida is the epicentre for climate change impacts.

Rising sea levels are already affecting the lives of Miami coastline residents. Some have faced property damage from rising water, while others reflect on the reality of relocation.

“I’ve been here for my entire lifetime,” says Dan Kipnis, a Miami resident and environmental activist. “I know for a fact I’m going to have to leave.”

Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine says he cannot afford to be concerned with the politics of climate change.

“As mayor I don’t have the liberty or time to debate why climate change is happening. All I have is the opportunity to fix it,” he says. “That bay is not Republican, it’s not Democrat, it knows no limits.”

City officials are moving quickly to keep the city dry by installing pumps and raising buildings and streets. The infrastructure is expensive, and applying for funding from the state or federal level again highlights the political divides surrounding climate change.

“When they are trying to get resources from the state of Florida,” says climate scientist Ben Kirtman, “they can’t really talk about the climate change part of it.”