​​Political theatre is a threat to combating climate change

Political theatre (the dramatic nature of modern politics) is largely responsible for advancing political polarization in the United States. The usage of political statements to sway public opinion is inextricably linked with the political climate, no pun intended, of our society. 

Combating climate change and developing alternative energy in place of fossil fuels has become increasingly politicized. With fossil fuels contributing to 60.4 percent of electricity generation in 2022, incomparable to only 21.3 percent of renewable sources, per the Energy Information Administration, we still have a long way to go.

Unfortunately, it seems that those in power—particularly elected officials and media personalities—actively seek to use the climate crisis as a launching pad for creating division and preventing collaboration on an issue that is affecting all of us; that is, political theatre.

The reality is, energy consumption and climate change are some of the most highly partisan and polarized issues, which I would argue are nearly synonymous in our current society, up there with gun control and abortion rights. According to a Pew Research Forum survey from 2023, 67 percent of Americans say that alternative energy should be further explored and prioritized, while 32 percent maintain that fossil fuels should still be prioritized. However, only 31 percent are prepared to go entirely alternative, with 68 percent suggesting a combination of energy sources. Where this mindset can get frightening is the blatant ignorance of the 35 percent of Americans who never want to stop using traditional energy sources. This divide is amplified even further when political affiliation is considered. According to the same study, 87 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents support mixing energy sources, but 57 percent believe in always using fossil fuels. On the other hand, 48 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents support filtering out traditional energy sources now, with 51 percent supporting a mix of alternative and traditional. Nonetheless, of that slim majority, 35 percent want to eventually phase out fossil fuels, with just 15 percent saying that the United States should never cease using fossil fuels.

Political theatre is a tool of divergence that seeks to separate us along party lines. While politicians appear to be making strong claims, they distract us through symbolism and publicity stunts, but often these dramatic attempts are too little to actually fix the issue. As a result, pointless political theatre. Elected officials and legislators exploit the media to further their own personal messages. However, that is not to say the media cannot be misleading when it comes to how they cover the theatre of politicians.

Given how overused political theatre is, it is no surprise that public trust of the political process has been continuously falling for the last several decades and is reaching record lows. As recorded by Pew Research Forum, the average was 73 percent in 1958, compared to 16 percent in 2023, with a rather steady decrease since 2001. In specifics to party affiliation, 25 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents trust the federal government, at least most of the time. In contrast, only 8 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents do.

Liberty and freedom. Two words that right-wing politicians and media personalities vomit out at their supporters through claims that the left is trying to take away their rights. When Vivek Ramaswamy launched his now-ended presidential campaign last February, he used extreme rhetoric, in a rather politically theatrical way, to pit the public against each other. According to the Associated Press, in reference to left-wing ideology, Ramaswamy claimed that “faith, patriotism and hard work” were being replaced by “new secular religions like COVID-ism, climate-ism and gender ideology.” Using something as politicized as COVID-19 when it was a public health emergency, in regard to masking and vaccination, along with discourse surrounding gender identity and expression, is clearly a scare tactic. The right continues to convince their supporters that the left is trying to force them to succumb to the left’s agenda.

If people sense that politicians are more interested in fighting their political opposition and garnering publicity in the pursuit of holding onto power than working for the public’s concerns, the general public may become less likely to support the necessary policies for combating climate change since they know their voice is not being heard. There is every piece of evidence needed to show it is our reality and that we need to take action or face the consequences.

The idea that alternative energy is threatening jobs in the coal industry has been used as a tool of propaganda. With the existence of coal towns that are dependent upon the production and distribution of coal for their local economy, the apparent threat of transitioning over to wind or solar in lieu of coal is being used to create fear and bash renewable energy, as suggested by NPR

However, according to a 2022 study from the University of Michigan, wind and solar jobs can fully replace coal-based jobs. Regardless of this, for those who have worked in their respective fields for decades, learning a new job is difficult and the transition is no easy feat. It is important that those currently employed in the coal industry are given the opportunity to understand the transition to wind and solar jobs and are educated about the feasibility of alternative energy, to combat the misinformation surrounding climate change.

While political theatre can amplify and bring to light an already existing issue, and perhaps even raise dialogue surrounding it, far too often it is overused and misused for furthering a political agenda. In the case of alternative energy and climate change, political theatre can diverge attention from the issues that really matter, strengthen political polarization, promote mistrust in the media and elected officials in general, delay confronting the climate crisis and continue to distort the reality of climate change until it really is too late.

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