From Gore to the Green New Deal: How the Politics of Climate Change Mitigation Urgency Has Changed from the 1990s to Today

Beachy, Nicole, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Foley, Rider, University of Virginia
Clarens, Andres, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia

Emissions from urban buildings and development projects are major contributors to climate change globally, specifically 30% of total emissions. A shocking new report from the World Green Building Council states that every building on the planet must be net zero carbon by 2050 in order to keep global warming below even 2 degrees Celsius. One way to get closer to this seemingly impossible goal is for the United States to be at the forefront of a mass transition to an entirely net zero building industry, and my technical project addresses this very issue. My team is creating a comprehensive cost and emissions model that incorporates fugitive methane emissions into the life cycle analysis of a building, depending on its location. This tool can then be used by engineers and project managers to move towards the electrification of our built environment. It is important to consider the human and social dimensions of this technology because climate change has become heavily politicized over the past 30 years, and has unfortunately emmeshed in the culture wars that plague the United States. Understanding how this tool, and net-zero buildings in general, are perceived by the public is critical to broadly implementation of this technology.
With that being said, it is important to understand the primary reason why the United States is so far behind on its transition away from fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable building industry – modern American politics. In order to analyze the changes in public opinion regarding climate change within the last 30 years, I will be utilizing the theory of politicization and acceptance of science from a regime analytical perspective. I will conduct a historical analysis of socio-cultural values, changes in practice, as well as outcomes with respect to climate change. In terms of expected findings for my research, I hope to reach a conclusion about how political frameworks have impacted climate change perception and mitigation from the 1990s to today, and how certain frameworks can be used to continuously improve the policy process with regards to climate change. The implications of the fugitive methane emissions life cycle cost analysis tool my team is developing, paired with my climate change acceptance politics research will hopefully leave a positive impact on the building industry and their adaptation of net-zero technology, and subsequently move the United States in the right direction to fight climate change.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Politics, Climate Change, Public Perceptions of Science
Sponsoring Agency:
Integral Group

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering
Technical Advisor: Andres Clarens
STS Advisor: Rider Foley
Technical Team Members: Aidan Jacobs, Maddie Robinson, Hana Sexton, Jackson Sompayrac

Issued Date: