Passionate students, faculty and community members met at the Agricultural Administration Building on Monday to listen to bipartisan speakers discuss how to reach across the aisle to address issues of climate change.
The speakers included state Rep. Kristin Boggs, several professors and Sarah Spence, the director of Governmental Affairs for the Ohio Energy Council.
The evening began with an understanding that the event would not be a debate over the validity of climate change, rather an open discussion.
According to J. Craig Jenkins, a professor emeritus in Ohio State’s Department of Sociology, the global effects of climate change are largely created by developed countries, but impoverished communities face the biggest consequences.
Erik Nisbet, an associate professor in the School of Communication who described himself as a political scientist by trade, said he approaches climate change by “looking at the intersection of politics and climate from a view of the public.”
Offering alarming statistics, Nisbet said climate change has become an issue of identity politics but at the core, the issue isn’t as partisan as it might seem.
Nisbet said Republicans think the issue of climate change has been exaggerated over the last year with a comparable percentage of Democrats that believe in the scientific consensus falling.
He hypothesized that this trend is due to climate change becoming an identity marker, and people only attributing that identity marker to Democrats.
Spence, the conservative voice on the panel, also works as the National Secretary for the Young Republican Majority.
“I have to kind of be used to going into an environmentally friendly event and waking around and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Sarah. I work for the Ohio Environmental Council I’m the Government Affairs Director,’ and the response being, ‘Oh honey I’m so sorry you have to go down to the [Ohio] Statehouse and talk to those awful Republicans,’ and me getting to go ‘Well, you know, I am one of those awful Republicans so it’s not that bad,’” Spence said.
“What’s the good news? The good news is that when you step away from talking about climate change in general and talk about the environment … you have a larger percentage of Americans that has gone up in the last couple years from about 50 percent in 2014 to about 57 percent now who believe that we should help the environment over economic growth,” Nisbet said.
Boggs, who represents Ohio’s 18th district that encompasses campus, cited the timeline of climate change in the Ohio General Assembly, specifically, when discussing how an issue that used to have bipartisan support has become a talking point exclusive to the Democratic party.
This change has been largely due to special interest and lobbying campaigns by big energy companies.
“I think this underscores a lot a lot of what Professor Nisbet was talking about when he said that we know that this issue in and of itself has become very politically divided at least on the elected official basis,” Boggs said.
“What has been interesting about my conversations, across the aisle, with non-elected members [of Franklin County], I find that Republican state workers, Republican economic developers, they are tuned into this issue and they understand it’s importance,” she said.