Charlotte Talks: Earth Day Began With Bipartisanship. How Did The Climate Get So Polarized?

Apr 20, 2020

Monday, April 20, 2020

The environment used to be a bipartisan issue. After all, we live on the same planet. Now it's one of America's most polarizing topics. How did we get to this point? Is there a way out of the political logjam?

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon planted a tree on the South Lawn of the White House on the first Earth Day in 1970.
Credit White House Photo Office

It was a Republican president – Richard Nixon – who oversaw the first Earth Day in 1970 and, later that same year, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Fifty years later, like every other issue, the political parties have mostly rushed to polar opposite positions on the environment. It’s among the top issues for Democrats, and presumed nominee Joe Biden promises “ambitious” action on climate change.

At the other end of the spectrum, President Trump, ever since taking office, has worked to dismantle Obama administration environmental policies.

While the coronavirus and the economy are at the top of Washington’s concerns right now, is there any room for the environment in 2020? Why did keeping our air and water clean become a polarizing issue?


Tim Profeta, Duke University, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Peter Dykstra, Environmental Health News, editor and columnist; former executive producer of CNN's science and environment unit (@pdykstra)