Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Warming Wednesdays: it's about values


I continue to be bemused by Republicans' refusal to believe the findings of climate science that something drastic is changing on the planet and that human beings are causing those changes. The Times cataloged the more extreme variations on this denial today:

The most vocal denier is Rick Perry, the Texas governor and longtime friend of the oil industry, who insists that climate change is an unproven theory created by “a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.”

... The others flatly repudiate the science. Ron Paul of Texas calls global warming “the greatest hoax I think that has been around for many, many years.” Michele Bachmann of Minnesota once said that carbon dioxide was nothing to fear because it is a “natural byproduct of nature” and has complained of “manufactured science.” Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has called climate change “a beautifully concocted scheme” that is “just an excuse for more government control of your life.”

Romney may -- or may not -- be a little better; the man apparently wants to be President so badly that he'll say whatever listeners seem to want. Huntsman is irrelevant, as no Republican voters like him, just the media.

So where in the world do these people -- and "the base" they cater too -- come from? Someone named Oran Switzer provided a theory at the Dot Earth blog:

There is not one climate dispute. There are two, and the solutions are not the same. First, we need to separate the two. The science debate does not work in politics. If you study the conservative approach to climate change policy long enough, the implication that they are trying to participate in a scientific conversation starts to fade away and you realize the underlying logic they are using actually starts from the conclusion that regulation and government intervention are bad and proceeds to the premise that there is no real problem with climate change, at which point, they pick around for snippets to support their premise. This allows them to make big, bold, statements about their identity and character and values rather than wallowing around in overly-precise, overly-pedantic language and data.

The center-left in the U.S. has a persistent problem with this dynamic because they see every situation where they have a factual advantage as proof of their superiority and then they proceed to hammer people with logic while ignoring the repeated lessons of political strategy. The debate needs to start with values! Science has no values. Science only describes the physical world.

To win the scientific debate about climate change, we just… oh wait, we already did. But to win the political debate, we need to spend less time on the details of the scientific debate and much more on the underlying values — the costs to humanity, society, and the economy of extreme weather, local floods, local droughts, freshwater scarcity, infectious disease, food security, coastline loss, biodiversity loss, etc., etc. It sounds backwards since the political challengers are denying the possibility of those dangers, one might think we need to respond to their challenge.

We do not. That’s what science is for.

Oh, I see. They have lousy values -- selfishness, greed that takes no thought for tomorrow, and a phony confidence in individual security (perhaps hugging their Glock?) that makes them believe the moon is made of green cheese and the seas aren't rising?

I've just probably provided an example of how not to talk about climate change denial. As Switzer says, we already have won the climate change debate. What we haven't won is much deeper. Our society has messed up values. We are all dependent on an economic system that thrives on "greed is good" and "devil take the hindmost." Greed can contribute to some kinds of positive changes: insurance companies will demand better seawalls; less carbon-intensive energy solutions that profit their inventors will come on line as we deplete existing resources.

But what's really missing is a general understanding that, unavoidably, we're all in this together. We don't have to like it. We just have to live with it. Very few of us here in the world's richest capitalist nation find it natural to know that. But we need to learn.

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