Climate Change: Economic & Political Issues

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  • 0:04 What Is Climate Change?
  • 1:31 Economic Issues
  • 2:44 Political Issues
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about the economic and political issues related to both acting and failing to act to reduce climate change. What are the costs involved? And how has climate change been used as a political issue?

What Is Climate Change?

The world's climate is changing. This has been true throughout the history of the world, but what we're seeing today is different. Today the earth's average temperature is increasing faster than normal, year by year, due to the greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect is the trapping of the heat from the Sun by certain gases in Earth's atmosphere. It's also the reason that the earth is warm enough for us to live on. Without it, we would all freeze to death.

While the greenhouse effect is a good thing, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and the greenhouse effect is getting stronger. Human activity, like power stations, cars, and farming, are producing more greenhouse gases. As we increase the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere, the earth gets warmer because those gases trap more heat.

And that's what people mean when they talk about climate change. Climate change is the increase in temperature and changes in weather patterns that result from humans releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. While nothing in science is ever completely certain, only highly likely, the science of climate change is quite solid. At this point, the vast majority of climate scientists believe that humans are the main cause of the increased temperatures we're seeing worldwide.

We have the technology to take action to prevent unnatural climate change from continuing, but so far we've taken relatively little action, especially in the U.S.A. The reasons for this are complex, but they mainly fall into two categories: economic and political issues.

Economic Issues

The economics of climate change can be a reason to take action, and a reason to do nothing, depending on who you ask.

Many people argue that the changes needed to combat climate change would just be too expensive. Climate change technology, like building wind turbines and solar panels, adding insulation to buildings, subsidizing electric cars, taxing petroleum and other oil products, and switching to fully renewable energy, all costs money.

However, economic issues can be the justification for taking just such actions. People have estimated the potential cost of climate change to the world economy to run into the trillions of dollars. This includes the costs of coastal flooding, human migration, increased health care problems due to changing temperatures, and damage from extreme weather.

So if climate change is potentially so costly, why do so many people argue we can't afford it? It all boils down to short-term versus long-term thinking. Combating climate change will save money in the long term, but will cost money in the short term. Despite this, more and more companies are starting to come to the realization that the risks are too great. The general attitude is leaning toward change, the only question is how soon it will reach a tipping point.

Political Issues

And then there's politics. Considering climate change legislation, like emissions regulations, tax incentives, and carbon markets, would be impossible without politicians. Climate change is a worldwide issue, and so politicians need to work internationally to make things happen.

But politicians are deeply divided on the subject in the U.S.A. The political issues surrounding climate change are less significant in Europe, but in the U.S.A. political ideologies are incredibly divided.

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