Energy Partisanship

100 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2014 Last revised: 19 Apr 2016

Date Written: April 16, 2016


Whether the topic is the Paris Agreement on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the Keystone XL Pipeline, hydraulic fracturing, offshore drilling, or renewable energy, much of the U.S. policy dialogue about energy and climate change is deeply partisan. Republicans and Democrats debate individual issues in vitriolic sound bites that indicate minimal common ground. For example, officials favoring robust action on climate change are charged with engaging in a “War on Coal.” Those opposed are labeled “members of the Flat Earth Society.” Set against these dysfunctional climate and energy politics, how can progress be made? For people who accept the science of climate change, this has become a critical question. An emerging body of psychological research indicates that strategies attempting to persuade those with opposing views with additional scientific evidence have limited effectiveness. Providing more information does not change minds because (1) it does not take moral and cultural worldview differences into account, or (2) it is presented in ways that do not adequately acknowledge how people’s perceptions of the relatability and trustworthiness of communicators shape their acceptance of that information.

This Article provides a novel analysis of how to make progress on energy and climate change issues by translating this emerging psychological research into a framework for action. It proposes two interconnected strategies — substantive and structural — for moving past imbedded partisanship and political dysfunction. Substantively, this Article argues for refocusing regulatory efforts on areas where a greater degree of consensus may be possible, such as economic development and disaster resilience. Structurally, it proposes a shift to arenas that are less gridlocked by energy partisanship than the legislative branch of the federal government, such as other branches of the federal government, state and local levels, and corporate and private sector actors. By drawing on case studies and empirical data, including interviews with key stakeholders, this Article illustrates possibilities for progress under this framework.

Keywords: energy, climate change, politics, media, new media, partisan, public opinion, cultural cognition, law and psychology, economic development, disaster, local, litigation, corporations

Suggested Citation

Osofsky, Hari M. and Peel, Jacqueline, Energy Partisanship (April 16, 2016). 65 Emory Law Journal 695 (2016)., Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-56, Available at SSRN: or

Hari M. Osofsky (Contact Author)

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611-3069
United States

HOME PAGE: http://

Jacqueline Peel

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
+613 8344 1115 (Phone)
+613 9347 2394 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://

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