Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science




people, warming, change, global, climate


The debate about global warming has been going for many years. Most people think that it is a more recent issue and problem, but scientists have been studying weather patterns and climate change since the late 1800s. Originally, much of the science was basic and looked more at temperature increase and decrease, and the different ice ages and warming periods that had occurred in the past. Eventually scientists, like Charles David Keeling and Roger Revelle, began studying the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the air. The reason that they chose to study carbon dioxide levels is because CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and greenhouse gases are the leading cause of global warming. Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas. Some of the other gases are methane, water vapor, and nitrous oxides. Alone, each of these gases is not harmful to the environment. In fact, the gases help to create a natural warming on Earth. Without them, the Earth would be inhospitable. But, the problem occurs when too much carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, or methane are emitted into the air. When that happens, the earth starts to trap more and more of the gases so the Earth begins to warm at an unhealthy level. One way that too many of the greenhouse gases occur is through increased human activity on Earth. After the industrial revolution, more factories, cars, plants, buildings, and homes were erected and caused more emission of greenhouse gases. The worst of the gases that came from this period was carbon dioxide. Cars are the biggest emitters of CO2, so the more people that were driving; the more carbon dioxide was emitted in the air. There are many other ways that humans also contribute to carbon dioxide levels. Some of these include: keeping chargers plugged in, not turning of lights or electronics, using too much heat, deforestation, and many others. One way to fix the problem would be people willing to change some of their habits that add to their emissions of carbon dioxide. An incentive for people to change their habits is the fact that if they don’t, there is a good chance that the changing weather will affect them. Hurricanes will become more severe, droughts more extensive, ocean levels rising and then covering parts of the coasts like California and parts of New York City, and many other things. Most people do not want to face those consequences so they should choose to change their habits now before it is too late. One way that the American people might begin to change the way they live their lives is if the federal government starts to make changes as well. In 1997, the United States and several other countries got together for a United Nations conference in Kyoto, Japan, and created the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol stated that all developed countries should begin to lower their emissions to 1990 levels by 2012, and developing countries will be added to the protocol later. Unfortunately, the U.S. did not ratify the clause because developing countries were not a part of it and the U.S. thought they had better ways to take global warming on. Because the government chose to sit back, states around the U.S. began to take action. California passed a Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006, and several states in the Northeast created the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The states wanted to begin reducing greenhouse gases even if the federal government wasn’t putting time and effort into reducing the effects of climate change. As people began to care more about global warming, it became a bigger issue in the media, politics, and among public opinion polls. The media plays a huge role in the lives of people. Newspapers have been giving people news since the 1800s, televisions since the 1950s, and the internet since 1980s. People are very easily influenced, and the media is a huge factor with that. Many people sit back and listen to what talk show hosts, reporters, comedians, journalists, and others have to say about global warming. Unfortunately, the people stating all these facts and ideas about climate change do not always have the right facts. They may not understand the science, they might only have a certain amount of time to say what needs to be said, they might be using satire, there might only be enough space in newspapers or magazines to put the information, and they might just be biased. All of these things will effect what a person thinks and feels. Another problem with the media is the use of balance. Many times it is important to look at both sides of the issue, but if one side is no longer factual then it should not be discussed. For example, the science of global warming is no longer disputable. It is happening. But, much of the media is still reporting the science as inconclusive. They are trying to be balanced when balance isn’t necessary. The media can also affect public opinion polls. Public opinion polls are important because they show what the American people think about all sorts of issues. Although, polls can sometimes be misleading. If they are worded in a certain way, a person can be influenced one way or another, and that makes the poll less accurate. Also, the group of people polled might not be the most diverse, which could affect the outcome. But, if done correctly, public opinion polls can tell a lot about issues like global warming. There have been some surveys about climate change since the early 1980s, but most have been in the last eight to ten years. Overtime, the polls show that people slowly have started to care more about climate change. People have gone from feeling that global warming might be happening to, that it is very likely a problem. Although, many Americans still believe that the science is not conclusive, and that scientists are in dispute about whether or not global warming is happening. It is necessary to look at the different polls to see what people feel to show the government that money and time needs to be spent on reducing greenhouse gases to halt global warming. Also, polls show presidents and presidential candidates there needs to be time spent on climate change issues. It is an important issue to the American people, so it should be important to them. Beginning with Nixon, global warming has been an issue discussed in the White House and around Washington, D.C. When Nixon was in office, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was developed, the first Earth day was established, and the Clean Air and Water Act were passed. After Nixon, the only president to really better the environment was Clinton. He and Vice President Al Gore made climate change and the environment a part of their platform. Even so, they did not do as much as many people expected of them. Unlike Clinton and Nixon, presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were considered the worst president’s for the environment. Finally, after understanding all of the different aspects of science, politics, media, and polls that go into discussing global warming, I wanted to see how students at Union College feel about climate change. To do this, I handed out surveys to students of different ages, religions, political parties, and gender. The results of the survey were extremely interesting. The overall understanding from the poll is that the overwhelming majority of students believe that global warming is happening, but there is a disparity about the policies that should be implemented to try to stop climate change, and about how much students are willing to inconvenience themselves to make change. One way to really analyze the survey was to split the respondents by political party preference and gender. First, when examining the difference between men and women, the main disparity is with how much the students are willing to inconvenience themselves to make changes. The poll showed that more women are willing to do things, like take public transportation, to reduce their carbon dioxide levels then men are. Also, more women feel that a presidential candidate’s global warming policy will effect who they vote for in the 2008 election. When examining the differences in political parties, between Democrats and Republicans, the most noticeable difference is how important climate change should be to the government. Democrats want it to be a top priority for the government, while Republicans do not think it should be important at all. Another big difference between the two parties is that most Republicans still think that scientists are in disagreement about whether or not global warming is happening, while Democrats do not think there is any scientific disagreement. Overall, what the poll showed was that most students, despite gender or party preference, do care about climate change. Students want to make some changes in their lives to reduce levels of carbon dioxide, and they also care about policy issues that will effect change. Many adults and people in positions of power do not think that students care about politics, or they just do not listen to them. If anything, even with differences of opinions, this polls shows that students do think about and want to make a difference in the world, and they should be listened to by adults and politicians.