This’ll be the first of a multi-part series on climate change, the President’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the politics and rhetoric that surround it.
First up on the agenda: context. Where is climate denialism coming from? How did we get here? How did a seemingly cut and dry, scientific topic become so partisan?
We have some theories: human beings’ natural short-term biases, the anti-science worldview of the religious right, the Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. FEC, and maybe, just maybe the Vietnam War.
This is Robot F. Kennedy.
Q: Why does the American Right seem so uniquely averse to climate science?
- An accident of special interest/party affiliations (aka the Carbon Bubble)?
- Is part of it “motivated ignorance”? https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/5/15/15585176/motivated-ignorance-politics-debate
- The GOP is the world’s only major climate-denialist party. But why?, Vox.com, Dec 2, 2015. https://www.vox.com/2015/12/2/9836566/republican-climate-denial-why
Q: How is the framing device of “belief” in climate science altering our public discourse?
Video of Republicans morphing their positions on climate change, starring Newt and Nancy: https://youtu.be/O4Q8Nm4ksVU
Paul Mason at Literary Hub: http://lithub.com/there-is-no-market-driven-solution-to-our-climate-catastrophe/
Transgender bathrooms, evolution, climate change, and the Ten Commandments, http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2016/05/transgender-bathrooms-evolution-climate-change-and-the-ten-commandments-1.html
“When I talk about climate change, I don’t talk about science”
“Past v Future” Party Bias (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/12/28/14074214/climate-denialism-social)
The latest chapter of this unending story began a few weeks ago, when a paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that purported to show a way to change pro-environmental attitudes in conservatives.
The results showed that “past comparisons” — comparing the damage climate change has done to the past purity of ecosystems — do more to increase conservatives’ pro-environmental feelings than warnings about the future. “Past comparisons largely bridged the political divide in addressing global warming,” the authors write.
But conservatives aren’t arguing logically (maybe none of us are):
Individualism has misled many areas of inquiry in the West (someday I’ll write about how it has screwed up ethics), but among the victims is epistemology. We imagine people coming to know things inside their heads, using their own thoughts and sense data. When you start there, it becomes difficult to prove that the shared world exists at all, that we are not brains in vats.
But we don’t start there, not in real life. We do not primarily come to know things through individual cognitive efforts — assembling evidence and evaluating it. Individually, we are in a position to critically assess only a tiny fraction of what we claim to know.
The vast bulk of our knowledge, we take on faith. Or to put it more charitably, we take on trust. We absorb what we know from trusted peers and authorities. Our trust in them is a kind of heuristic that allows us to navigate a wildly complex and uncertain reality, of which we will directly experience only a tiny fraction.
Having an understanding of the world and your place in it — an understanding shared by your tribe — feels like safety. It feels like control. Questions that unsettle that understanding are instinctively treated with skepticism or outright hostility.