Climate change didn’t used to be a polarized issue in the U.S.

In a new podcast on the upcoming Paris climate conference (COP21), Timmons Roberts explains the origin of the talks, what to expect there, and how the global community plans to meet the challenge of climate change. In one portion of the conversation, Roberts, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings and Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University, addresses the domestic politics of climate change.

Unfortunately the issue of climate change has become a political and polarized one in the U.S. And it didn’t start out that way. In 1997 Democrats and Republicans had very similar opinions about climate change—that it existed, that it was a scientifically proven issue, and that we should do something about it. And then the two parties started to diverge in their opinions and in what the elite [were] saying here in Washington.

So unfortunately, the Republican Party has adopted the position that climate change is not real, and then if it is real then it’s natural and it has always been happening—so it’s cyclical. And then there are other positions that it’s real, it’s happening, but not human made. And then once there’s sort of an admission that it is human made, and that its problematic, and it’s happening, then they say it’s too expensive to take the steps that are necessary, and that it will ruin the economy, and put people out of work. It will affect the American Way to the extent it’s not worth acting on.

The positions are shifting in the Republican Party. They are I think seeing that they are unable to connect with their younger generation who believe very strongly in climate change; [and] that the public really has become convinced that climate change is real. That’s one of the things that is different this year in 2015, compared to 2009 in Copenhagen …  that people are perceiving this climate change in the United States and a lot of other countries. People are seeing stuff happening that they haven’t seen before.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Additional segments on the Paris climate talks will appear in future episodes.

For more on the climate talks, visit our climate change collection of research and commentary.

Also, visit Brown University’s for more of Timmons Roberts’ work.