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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Global Warming Question

by folkbum

I did not watch the State of the Union speech last night; somehow, these things always seem to get scheduled during exam week and I have to give priority to that thing that pays the bills, you know? So I was busy reading mediocre exams while our mediocre president gave what was, by all accounts, a mediocre speech. I'll let Senator Webb, Senator Durbin, and Paul Soglin speak for me about the speech specifically, and I'll let occam's hatchet remind you of previous greatest SOTU hits.

But the speech does give me an excuse to ask a question that's been rattling around in my head for some time, and, if y'all don't mind, I would even appreciate a considered response in the comments below. It is this: Why are conservatives, particularly social conservatives, so invested in denying that global climate change exists?

There was a great deal of speculation in the run-up to the SOTU that Bush would finally recognize global warming and that people might be shocked at how "green" his speech would be. Turns out there was one measly sentence about global warming: "These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment--and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change." Hardly a ringing endorsement of the last five years of Al Gore's life, but perhaps a step in the right direction. The right direction, of course, being an acknowledgement of reality.

But why should it be such a surprise--or even news--that Bush would mention global warming? There is no reason, other than the obstinance of many conservatives, particularly those in power, why this country hasn't taken the same steps forward that every other Western nation has in both recognizing that the problem exists and that our behavior contributes significantly to that problem.

Perhaps it's just because my greatest experience with the conservative right comes mostly from what I read in the Right Cheddarsphere that I haven't seen progress; for all I know, "green" fever has been sweeping the country and it's just taken a long time to hit the backwaters of conservative Wisconsin. But when global warming comes up for discussion, not only do many of the usual suspects deny that climate change exists, there is downright hostility toward the idea. (Don't believe me? Search for yourself--and that doesn't even turn up hostile hits from Fred or Peter's former and current blogs, whence the greatest venom spews.)

So I repeat my question: Why are conservatives, particularly social conservatives, so invested in denying that global climate change exists?

While certainly it's true that there is a smalll segment of the scientific community willing to deny the existence of global warming, surely that cannot be reason enough for conservatives to cling to. There is no question that often minorities of scientists can be right; consider that a mere half a century ago, only a tiny few geologists understood or promoted plate tectonics, something we all take for granted now. But the trick in these instances is to watch the movement--once scientists were able to read about, understand, and verify through their own experiments the concepts of plate tectonics, the scientific community shifted rapidly and solidly into consensus about it. The same has, in fact, happened when it comes to climate change: The minority denying its existence are the last holdouts in a community that has long since left them behind. (They hold out, perhaps, because of who signs their paychecks.)

So if it isn't the science, what is it? I can kind of see a reason why an economic conservative might, for example, be unwilling to allow government intervention to change behavior. They could figure that "the market" will get around to changing once the malaria-ridden bodies start piling up in the new swamps around Rhinelander. But that, also, is not reason enough to deny the existence of climate change or to be so hostile to the idea.

And, yes, personal convictions can certainly affect the way one views science. From the right, for example, I fully understand--even if I don't agree--why religious folk are so opposed to the theory of evolution, as its implications reject the foundation upon which much of their religion is premised: God created the earth and everything on it, and to suggest that human life, which they believe is made in God's image, is a mere accident of biology is quite literally sacrilege. And from the left, there are good reasons--if not scientific ones--for liberal academics to fight against evolutionary psychology*; after all, it is only a short trip from "Men's brains evolved differently from women's brains" to "Men's brains evolved better than women's brains." And given our history with that sort of reasoning over the last couple of centuries, the warning bells are not unjustified.

But there is nothing--nothing--that I can see that justifies a rejection of climate change in the same way. What personal convictions are strengthened by such a denial? Unless it's possibly to assuage guilt over not driving a Prius--or perhaps leftover hostility to Al Gore--I can't imagine what it might be.

So, please, help me understand: What is it that drives them (or you, if you are one) not only to disregard what is painfully clear to the rest of us, but to vehemently and disparagingly attack anyone who says otherwise? What have you got invested in this denial that makes it impossible for them (or you) to either talk rationally about it or acknowledge the truth?


* One of the things that bothers me most about the "Intelligent Design" crowd is their insistence that schools "teach the controversy." They have manufactured a controversy out of thin air, and then demand that it be presented--clever. But in doing so, they ignore the fact that, at any given moment, there is plenty of "controversy" within the scientific community. Evolutionary psychology over the last decade and a half is a perfect example; we can teach "controversy" without having to resort to phony ginned-up pseudo-science.

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