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Exploring the American response to climate change through the lens of political cultures
Conférence de Melanie Meunier (Université de Strasbourg)
7 avril 2022

Amphi Massiac- Paquebot, UBS

What role do political cultures play in varying responses to climate risks?
I would like to explore the relevance of Daniel Elazar’s identification of three dominant political cultures in the United States and how they inform widely different approaches to this issue. In his 1966 classic, American Federalism: A View from the States, Elazar argued that there are three dominant political subcultures in the American states: moralistic (government is an egalitarian institution and invites large citizen participation), individualistic (government is a restrained institution that allows citizens to pursue their individual interests), and traditionalistic (government is a hierarchical institution that protects the status quo). While the geographical distribution and origins of the US population have evolved considerably since 1966, evidence can be found that supports the hypothesis that these cultural differences still determine policies in many states. For example, the northeastern states, New England in particular, were first settled by Puritans and are the best example of the moralistic culture. These states were among the early actors addressing climate change; they began discussing an emissions trading scheme in 2003, which became the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Conversely, some of the most at-risk states like Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, which fall into the traditionalistic political culture, are among those doing the least to prepare for climate change, failing to join the United States Climate Alliance, which was formed following President Trump’s announcement of US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017.
Furthermore, the variety of approaches, exacerbated by a highly polarized political atmosphere in the United States, has made it extremely difficult to find a consensus at the national level. Climate change is a phenomenon that knows no borders. While many states have enacted significant measures to combat the effects of climate change, national policy is also necessary. Extreme weather events often hit multiple states, requiring federal assistance, not to mention the importance of nationwide policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in sectors such as transportation, energy, and agriculture. The diversity of political cultures has been a significant factor in the United States’ difficulty in implementing a proactive climate policy.

Contact : marie-christine.michaud@univ-ubs.fr