Climate Change as Symbolic Politics in the United States


I have an essay on climate politics forthcoming at the IEEJ (Institute for Energy Economics, Japan) Energy Journal. The title  of my essay is, “Climate Change as Symbolic Politics in the United States” and is here in PDF.  Here is the bottom line:

United States’ climate policy is highly uncertain, mainly because it is a partisan issue and US political situation is fluid. A return to Democratic leadership in the White House might see the Trump approach similarly overturned, as with the Obama approach. At the same tie, because of the focus on political symbolism over policy substance, there is a real possibility that Trump Administration ultimately does not matter much for U.S. climate policies. Instead, larger trends likely to continue to dominate (e.g., markets, prices, technology, etc.).

The question for those interested in policy to accelerate decarbonization of the US and global economies is similarly clear: Can the issue be de-politicized for 2020 and beyond in order to better focus on policy over politics? Or is climate change to remain primarily a political symbol?


  1. John Mauer says:

    “decarbonization” is all you needed to say to keep it political


  2. stevefitzpatrick says:

    Good essay.
    All such wedge issues reveal not so much differences in recognition of facts or factual understanding, but differences in personal priorities and perceived values. For example, those who support pubic policies to restrict fossil fuel use see greater government control of the market as a good thing (in a moral sense), because they believe the market fails in many ways, while those opposed to those public policies see greater government control of the market as a bad thing (in a moral sense), because they see the market a a force of enormous public benefit. So looking at the same facts, people see very different ‘costs’ for the same policies.

    I do not see a way this can be depoliticized, any more than Roe V Wade can be. There is always the possibility of political compromise in setting policy, but that would require electing people to public office who are willing to actually compromise. Which would be a very different crew than is currently resident in Washington.


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