Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The right, the left, and global warming

While reading through Naomi Klein's new book "This Changes Everything", I came across some rather interesting statistics on the political views of climate change deniers.
Some 75% of American "Democrats and liberals" believe that climate change is real and caused by humans, compared much smaller percentage of Republicans, as little as 20% in some regions. Similarly, in Canada, 41% of Conservatives believe in anthropocentric global warming, compared to 76% of the leftist New Democrats, and 69% of the more centrist Liberals. Apparently, a similar split exists in Europe.
This is a pretty stark dichotomy, especially given that 97% of climate scientists are convinced of the science (this figure from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, not some radical and biased source). Setting aside the question of what the other 25% of Democrats and liberals can possibly be thinking, these figures suggest that belief in man-made climate change among the general public (as opposed to scientists) is very much a partisan political issue, and not a matter of objective and intellectual truth. A few openly admit this, but the vast majority don't, and indeed don't even seem to be aware of it. Which begs the question of how such a disparity arises.
Ms. Klein's theory, which seems plausible enough, is that Conservatives are not denying the science itself - although they may well claim to be doing so - but they are denying the very possibility of the massive government intervention needed to deal with it, which is so much against their base beliefs as to be almost inconceivable to them. This is almost textbook psychological denial: if such action is deemed to be necessary, then the assumptions on which the question is based must be wrong (the only other alternative being that the market-based conservative system itself is flawed, which is inconceivable).
Interestingly, one would assume that liberals and leftists are also guilt of a psychological bias, of a denial of a different kind, although it is not quite to so obvious how this manifests itself. Maybe this is because right-wingers typically tend to justify the system ("conservatism" in its purest form), while lefties are more likely to question the system, and to be more skeptical of information from corporation and governments. Or maybe it is just because left-wingers, being less likely to fit the conservative mould of wealthy white males, typically have less at stake, less to lose from abandoning, or even tweaking, the system. Who knows?
Another statistic that jumped out at me is the fact that fewer people, whether on the right or the left, are convinced of the correctness of global warming science than previously, falling from 71% in 2007 to 51% in 2009 and 44% in 2011 (these are American figures from a  Harris poll). Which, given the continued and increasingly strident warnings from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is kind of scary.
One element behind this trend is that the number of news stories on climate change has shrunk drastically (10-fold!) over the period, which you could argue may be politically motivated, or not, depending on your viewpoint. The other, and probably much more important, element is the million and millions of dollar that have been sunk into the campaign by billionaire conservatives and businessmen, the concerted crusade by the right-wing media outlets, and, perhaps most importantly of all, the effect of the hugely influential right-wing think-tanks like the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Ayn Rand Institute, etc, etc. These organizations have put up a spirited, almost desperate, defence of the American right to low taxes, small government and "liberty", which is clearly threatened by climate change and its repercussions.
From these statistics, it has to be said that the right appears to be winning this particular battle in the war. Enough seeds of doubt have been sown, and enough apathy and complacency has been fostered. In the meantime, we are merrily continue on our way over the proverbial cliff.

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