President Biden recently scored a big win in the fight against climate change with his Inflation Reduction Act, but despite the compromises it made to the fossil fuel interest, not a single Republican voted for it—neither in the Senate nor in the House. And despite the extreme weather we’ve seen this year, 29% of Americans continue to believe human activity has little impact on climate change, while 24 percent think it has no effect at all. The United States still needs regulations and emissions limits to end our dependence on fossil fuels, but will they be possible with so much polarization plaguing the country?
Polarization is the worst it’s been since 1879, just after the Civil War. It has now reached a point where some fear it could endanger democracy itself; three in 10 people surveyed believe it’s one of the top issues facing our country.
Peter T. Coleman, a professor of psychology at Columbia University and executive director of the Columbia Climate School’s Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity, has written extensively on conflict and polarization. We talked to him to get his ideas on how to overcome polarization both at the political level and in our daily interactions with family, friends, and neighbors.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.