Climate change diagram

Framing the Climate Change Debate: If Climate Change is Real, Why Do We Debate it?

It is important to clarify some confusion regarding climate change denial and skepticism to understand the climate change debate.[1][2][3][4][5]

The Facts on Climate Change vs. the Polarizing the Politics of Climate Change

The Facts: We know “human-impacted climate change is real.” There is no serious debate on whether or not climate change exists. In fact, there is little debate that we are currently in a warmer period than we were and there is little doubt that we are currently feeling the effects of climate change. This can all be confirmed by recent data including data presented in a 2017 report by scientists from 13 federal agencies that confirms that global warming is happening (the earth’s average temperature is rising), climate change is happening, it is largely human caused, that the ice caps are melting, etc.

The extent of human and natural causes aside, and how this relates to past cycles of the earth aside, the warming part has essentially been confirmed.

The debate is thus about “to what extent is climate change a problem? To what extent are humans causing climate change? Also, to what extent can humans combat climate change by adaptation tactics like reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

When talking about the debate over human-caused climate change, it is important to understand that most intellectuals on both sides of the left-right political aisle agree that climate change is real and that humans impact it. The debate is about the extent of our impact both regarding what we can do to cause negative climate change and how we can adapt to fix it.[6]

Unfortunately, some on both sides of the aisle then take this debate and make it political. On the right some seek to suppress climate data, like the 2017 report, and on the left some seek to present inductive data (that is data that points toward probable conclusion rather than certain ones) as conclusive and absolute. Politics aside, the data confirms:

“The global climate continues to change rapidly compared to the pace of the natural variations in climate that have occurred throughout Earth’s history. Trends in globally averaged temperature, sea level rise, upper-ocean heat content, land-based ice melt, Arctic sea ice, depth of seasonal permafrost thaw, and other climate variables provide consistent evidence of a warming planet.” – Excerpt from the 2017 report as found on

According to a 2017 report by scientists from 14 federal agencies: “The global climate continues to change rapidly compared to the pace of the natural variations in climate that have occurred throughout Earth’s history. Trends in globally averaged temperature, sea level rise, upper-ocean heat content, land-based ice melt, Arctic sea ice, depth of seasonal permafrost thaw, and other climate variables provide consistent evidence of a warming planet.”

The Political Aspects of Climate Change

As noted above, the climate change debate tends to be highly politicized to the extent that in America one party tends to believe the science and the other skeptics who represent industry (the ones who do things like release CO2 into the atmosphere).

This is to say, Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, and the right-wing tend to be skeptical of climate science in general, which makes sense politically as the “fix” for climate change often seems to be costly regulation on rural industry.

Consider this takeaway from the 2017 report:

“Without major reductions in these emissions, the increase in annual average global temperatures relative to preindustrial times could reach 9oF (5oC) or more by the end of this century.”

That means certain industries essentially have to move toward being more green, that means more cost to industry, and the means “progressive change.” One can see how this would not be at the top of the list of certain types of companies. Thus, they tend to take skeptical position.

Despite reasonable skepticism, only extreme skeptics and those under their influence still deny the existence of climate change, the fact that the planet is warming and changing on average, or human impact of climate change as a factor.

To draw a comparison, the debate over climate change is like the debate over slavery in the mid-1800’s or like tobacco’s negative properties in the 1950’s. Slavery and tobacco’s negative properties were real and a problem, but reacting with drastic measures was going to hurt the rural communities that depended upon a lack of regulation and uncertainty about science (or in the case of slavery morality).

Thus, the conversation was long, drawn out, and skewed. Still, some change came regarding those other drastic voter issues, and so it can with climate change too.

After all, being moved by the facts is not something that is divided along party lines, and there is only one set of facts.

“Longer-term climate records over past centuries and millennia indicate that average temperatures in recent decades over much of the world have been much higher, and have risen faster during this time period, than at any time in the past 1,700 years or more, the time period for which the global distribution of surface temperatures can be reconstructed.” – 2017 Report

Opinions can Change, Especially Opinions Based on Something Other than Climate Data

With all the above said, it is important to note that both sides of the political aisle need to remain skeptic, as real change means finding common ground. If we can agree on scaling back pollution, that is a good first step, if we find data that is less drastic (as a result of say more research), then that is a good thing. Neither side is benefited much from taking a hardline position.

We have to remember, that people can change.

Consider, Trump had once claimed, “climate change is a hoax by the Chinese” on the campaign trail before he was given Presidential briefings. However, after having access to briefings, his administration changed their opinion.

Trump and his team, shortly after taking office, actually admitted climate change was real and humans impacted it. Their stance is now the stance of a more centered skeptic, one who admits the human impact is real but doesn’t see the extent of the impact is severe enough to justify strict regulation.[7]

Now with that said, it also seems Trump and his team actively moved to dismantle the EPA and suppress the 2017 report, but the point here is that no one’s position is set in stone.

Adaptation to Climate Change Means Humans Making Changes to Slow Our Impact on Climate Change, it Doesn’t Just Mean Evolving to Deal With the New Climate

Ultimately, the answer will be found in a balance of the needs of industrialization and common sense adaptation measures.

Climate science is not about thoughts and feelings; it is about climate science. From this perspective, there is a lot of compelling data that shows us that global warming, climate change, and pollution are all human-impacted problems that must be taken seriously despite political party views.

If sources are telling you that climate change or human-caused climate change is a complete myth, you should be skeptical. I’d equally advise you not to rely on arguments like “97% of scientists agree on any given talking point.” There is stronger and more specific evidence. You can, for instance, point out how a greenhouse works or point to recent data on the average warming of global temperatures or recent erratic weather patterns.

If Trump could change his mind upon seeing the data, you can too, whether you are liberal or conservative. This is a human issue, not a political one.

There are lots of reasonable debates here, but denial, or support based on feelings and not facts, isn’t the basis for any of them.

After all, even if we can’t stop climate change, and even if it turns out that humans aren’t having a big impact, we all know pollution is both real and “not good.” We know we can curb that. We don’t need a study to know that dumping industrial waste is a bad long-term strategy or that the air in Beijing, Baoding, or LA isn’t as healthy to breathe as the clean air of other cities is.

“We find no convincing evidence that natural variability can account for the amount of global warming observed over the industrial era. For the period extending over the last century, there are no convincing alternative explanations supported by the extent of the observational evidence. Solar output changes and internal variability can only contribute marginally to the observed changes in climate over the last century, and we find no convincing evidence for natural cycles in the observational record that could explain the observed changes in climate.” – The 2017 Report.

TIP: For more climate change facts, see Global Warming is Happening: Fact, Myth, and Fallacy.

Climate Science: What You Need To Know. Here are the basics of climate change, see the next video if your first instinct is to deny the existence of climate change, as it gives the conservative perspective”.

Are global warming and climate change the same thing?: Global warming is a type of climate change. It is the most problematic type, and it was very heavily politicized in 2000. Thus, the political conversation moved away from this term and toward climate change in general. The main problem is “global warming” implies that the primary symptom will always be warm temperature, and that isn’t actually how the science behind global warming works. So, to avoid inaccurate politicized mix-ups like this, the term climate change is now stressed.

Getting Three Sides of the Politics of the Climate Change Debate

Below are three different takes on the politics of the climate change debate. The first is from the left, the second is from Rex Tillerson on the center right, the third is from the flat out skeptics. You’ll note that each has a bias, but only two of the three take the data seriously.

TIP: The video below has left-leaning bias, that is clear. However, it also explains how the right-wing uses political emotion (fear in this case) to get their base to fight against environmentalists using “big government” as a boogyman. It is vital for everyone to understand this. Yes, liberals tend to do the equal opposite, but two wrongs do not make a right!

Republicans Exploit Fears In Voters To Stifle Action On Climate Change.

TIP: Want to get the facts on Climate Change? See the EPA’s Climate Change Research.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for Secretary of State and ex-CEO ExxonMobil, explains his position on climate change. As I stated above, those who take information seriously don’t debate whether or not human-caused climate change is real; they debate the extent and specifics. See Rex’s position on climate change and a carbon tax. I agree with people like Rex Tillerson after doing my research, and am deeply troubled by the deniers who I feel are presenting a dishonest viewpoint for political purposes.

OPINION: A skeptic, like David Hume, helps us to advance our knowledge, reminding us to question our reason. Tillerson is a skeptic in this way, and this type of skeptic deserves attention. They may rightly use terms like “scientific consensus” or poke holes in the 97% talking point” (see those discussed here). That is valid. However, a skeptic, like a PR person for big oil, does not deserve the same civility or attention. Thus, we can say that climate change skeptics are sometimes Humeian, but others are more sub-Humeian when they spin falsehoods and half-truths for political expediency and payola. We have to separate those skeptics who merit our attention and debate from those PR people who don’t. The best way to do that is to know the climate change facts and when needed, follow the money.

A discussion on global warming and climate change by the less Humeian “skeptics.” In this video, in my opinion as someone who has researched all sides of this debate, Stefan Molyneux sits right at the edge of valid skepticism, being more an Alex Jones type than not. Alex Epstein goes over the line into a big oil PR errand boy. He has very little Alex Jones in him but relays the libertarian big oil skeptic position to a “T” as he is connected to libertarianism and big oil. Read his Wikipedia bio.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Climate change is a political issue because so many giant industries emit CO2. It is not rocket physics, although building rockets is one type of industrialization. The question isn’t “is climate change real?” or “should we have adaptive measures and reasonable regulation?” It is “to what degree are humans causing climate change, and to what extent can we do something about it in terms of individual action, national or international policy, and other non-governmental collective measures?” In the end, the problem is that we don’t have the answer to all the questions surrounding climate change. We need for further funding, study, and serious discussion.


  1. EPA -Climate Change Research
  2. NASA Global Climate Change
  3. Is Global Warming a Myth? How to respond to people who doubt the human impact on the climate
  4. 2017: Read the Draft of the Climate Change Report A final draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. The report was completed this year and is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years.
  5. Global Warming is Happening: Fact, Myth, and Fallacy
  6. Rex Tillerson Says Climate Change Is Real, but …
  7. China tells Trump climate change is not a Chinese hoax

"How to Understand the Politics of the Climate Change Debate" is tagged with: American Politics, Climate Change, Conspiracy Theories, Environment, Left–right Politics, NASA, Theories

What do you think?

common sence on

If the Climate does not stop changing we will all die! Tax all people on Earth 100% of everything they own or ever will own. How are you going to stop/fix climate from changing? Take all that money and invest all of it in to Air Conditioners and turn them all on? Will not effect Climate Change… Kill all the humans? Nope, the climate will still change… Kill all living things on earth, no C02 production like Mars, but Mars still has climate change and seasonal melting of polar ice caps… Vent the atmosphere into space, like the moon. That will End Climate change, now take all that wealth and make it happen. Or Shut The Up.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

You are conflating the idea that the climate changes naturally with human impacted climate change which adds to the natural change.

If climate is supposed to warm by 1 degree, and humans add another degree or hasten the warming, then the total effect can be drastic. That is the concept.

After we accept climate change is a fact, we seem to both agree there, and once we accept that humans can impact it, then the next step is to debate the economic implications and to discuss what humans can do to help rather than hurt.