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Why climate politics might not be stuck forever

Protestors at last year's March for Science in Washington. Photo: Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A just-released paper from the Niskanen Center charts how Capitol Hill's partisan divide on the environment grew so stark in recent decades while offering a few reasons why GOP lawmakers' posture on climate could shift in the future.

Why it matters: The paper delves into demographic, economic and political forces that could eventually lead Republicans to moderate their positions.

  • Younger voters show more support for regulation than their elders, noting a GOP "generation gap" on climate. To be sure, though, a recent Pew survey showed that most millennial Republicans don't agree with the scientific mainstream on human-caused warming.
  • The fossil fuel industry represents a declining share of U.S. employment, and political giving to Republicans from renewable energy interests is growing.

One useful metric: The paper, by University of Maryland political scientist David Karol, uses League of Conservation Voters' annual rankings of lawmakers as a proxy for polarization.

Quoted: "Changes on the environment might actually prove easier for Republicans than modifying stands on issues like immigration, which connects directly to identity politics," he writes.

Be smart: Predictions of a shift in GOP lawmakers' stances on climate have been around for years, yet actual changes in posture have been very rare. Karol's paper isn't Pollyannish, but it offers a lucid look at how the landscape could eventually shift.

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