Monday, August 26, 2013


Climate Denialism

I posted last year on the reasons for climate denialism among educated Republicans. This is a less philosophical take, published this week in my local newspaper, The Yancey Common Times Journal.

Locally, public denial of climate change comes almost exclusively from a Confederate re-enactor who has a PhD in one of the subdisciplines of physics. Of course, this individual covers for more covert denialists. Being fair, the editor of this paper will continue to publish his letters. But this does not give equal weight to his arguments. His key assertion is that, contrary to the claims of climate scientists, US temperatures are going down rather than up! He “proves” this via graphs which he manipulates to show false peaks and valleys. If the graphs are incomplete, or falsely labeled, this is easy to do. What enables him to do this is the lack of scientific literacy in the general public. We can be thankful that we have competent science teachers like Chris Bocci to help alter this pattern.

The issue, even for the most conservative politicians – yes, sadly this is about politics, driven by partial and distorted science – is not whether global temperatures are rising, but the cause. The alarming melt of the polar icecaps along with the world's glaciers and the rapid increase in desertification – including the American Southwest – all testify that the world is warming, much more rapidly at the poles than at the center. What these politicians, fueled by a few renegade scientists, claim is that there is no proof that this is being caused by human activity. There is not space here to marshall the data that show that, to the contrary, we are the Flood. More than 95% of the world's climate scientists are convinced by this data, and a steady trickle of deniers among them is shifting. The prime example is Richard Muller, Berkeley scientist who completed a study recalculating 1.6 billion pieces of climate data last year that showed “essentially all of this increase results from human emission of greenhouse gases” (“The Conversion of a Climate Skeptic” NYT op-ed, July 2012). The study's main funder was the Koch brothers, who have heavily supported the climate denialist lobby. Oops!

Why are conservatives in denial? Because they have no doubt that we are the all-powerful king of species, and that anything we might do to curb our power would be willful abdication of our kingship. The paradox is that while we are told in Genesis that we are made in the image of God, godlike. Yet we usurp Him, working more and more against Creation rather than with it. Indeed, a secular pseudo-environmentalist recently wrote a book called The God Species, in which he argues that we are capable of undoing any mess we have created through our godlike creativity.

Are you uncomfortable yet? I am. As a college humanities teacher, one of my favorite teaching texts was the Book of Job. The whole of this magnificent Creation mirrors the glory and power of God, not man. We may be made in His image, but we are also capable of sin. The best path when we recognize our sin is to ask forgiveness and try to right our path, not to enter ever more deeply into it.

We are comfortable (like Job's self-satisfied friends) with the benefits of a fossil-fueled world. Rather than moving away from our personal comforts and the vast corporate profits riding on them, it might be easier to trust technocrats to save us from ourselves and the fossil behemoths. As we approach the point of no return with respect to climate disequilibrium, the most tempting action for the God Species is to seed the poles with sulfur dioxide, which would simulate a global series of volcanic eruptions, cooling the atmosphere by blocking the sun's incoming rays. Leaving aside the multitude of unknowns in this scenario, one thing is clear. If we resort to this desperate move, we will have no more blue sky until we stop injecting sulfur dioxide. How important is blue sky to you? How does it compare to the benefits of the internal combustion engine and unlimited electricity?

The common thread that drives denialists is pride and arrogance. This is true of technocrats from the scientific-industrial complex, the captains of industry and their handmaids on the political right. Only chickens, crying liberals, would turn back when we are on the verge of bioengineering our crops and children, and geoengineering our atmosphere. Right?

Isn't it odd that it's the liberals who align with the New Testament values of social justice? Friends, the “Christian right” is not Christian at all, but cheerleaders for a state religion that has been the bane of the West since Constantine. (And let's not call it “Old Testament” religion, for the Jews have a doctrine called tikkun – the necessity of mending the world that we have broken.) We lack New Testament literacy as well as scientific literacy. We are badly lost, in a state of alienation from our Creator, not only with climate denialism but in the monstrous overreach of the majority in Raleigh - sadly by all three branches of government. But that is another subject, rightfully the domain of folks fired by the social gospel, sponsors of Moral Mondays across our dear beleaguered Old North State.

2 questions:

1. what would you call someone who's the opposite of a "denialist"?

2. you write "The common thread that drives denialists is pride and arrogance." what do you see as the common thread that drives people who are the opposite of "denialists"?

and a third... do you have room in your dichotomy for people who don't necessary "deny" that climate change "is" or that people have a hand in it, but who mis-trust the politics of those who decry "denialists"?

1) the usual term is "climate hawk." I have used the term "climate warrior" before. Interesting that military terms are used, though the ancient origins of warrior did not necessarily have military connotations.
2) good question. I'd say that it is the same common thread. Christians call it original sin.
3) Indeed, you point to the danger in writing op-eds, that of simplifying. Try it yourself in 750 words. there is of course room for this mistrust. I have a problem with knee-jerk varieties on the left and the right. Go back in my blog and read of my struggle in being educated about nuclear power. My succeeding letter to the editor, when challenged, went into the due diligence involved in questioning my own assumptions about nuclear power. In the wake of Fukushima, that struggle continues, because it is hard to trust either side. One could say that our ideologies, which we prefer to call "values" are simply a mark of original sin. Highly-educated people can ignore the facts and soudn theories due to the fact that ideology trumps reason in most of us. Note that early Friends were so named becasue they sought truth, and Fox's predecessor equated Reason and Christ. WE have strange beginnings.
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