August 03, 2011

Why 'dittoheads' won't accept climate science

The man of political discontent
Mother Jones has a good story on why so many conservative white males won't accept the science of climate change. It's not bad at all on the first point, that of a position of privilege. More on that in a moment. But the second? I don't think most denialists think so far ahead as to consider whites are likely to be a minority in the U.S by 2040 or so.

Back to privilege. Chris Mooney nails it:
If climate change is real and human caused, it potentially threatens the whole economic order and those who have built it and benefited from it. It is the most inconvenient of truths. ... I am surprised the authors didn’t bring up what may be the most biologically grounded of them: “social dominance orientation,” or SDO. This refers to a particular personality type—usually male and right wing—who wants to dominate others, who sees the world as a harsh place (metaphorically, a “jungle”) where it’s either eat or be eaten, and who tends to really believe in a Machiavellian way of things. Fundamentally, this identity is all about testosterone firing and being an alpha male.
David Roberts has similar thoughts.

Living in the Permian Basin of West Texas, where trucks are symbols of manhood for conservative white women as well as men, I can attest to everything Mooney and Roberts say, in spades.

But, the two of them miss a bit. The denialists, to some degree, come at their denialism from different angles. Not all are driven primarily by Limbaugh, though they may be fellow travelers on this issue. More below the fold.

That's the split between largely secular cornucopian futurists, on one hand, and conservative Christians on the other. And, there's a third group, the Mammonites, if we will, who think their personal money will take care of them, with or without new technology or whatever.

A cornucopian futurist has mix of issues. He will partly deny the science that humans are causing climate change, partly deny the seriousness of such change, and partially believe in what I have in the past called "salvific technologism," the idea that climate engineering or whatever will save the day.

Note: Humanity's oft-woeful record of inadvertent change from introducing non-native species to new parts of the world should tell us climate engineering is probably a fool's errand at best.

That said, who do we separate the "technology worshippers" among the lest ardent denialists from the largely conservative Christians, the Sen. James Imhofe types who believe Jesus will ride over the hill, not the cavalry, or else believe that whatever bad does happen is punishment for human sin?

And how do we reach out to the bastions of privilege, who aren't tech worshipers, but believe their money can get them through anything anyway?

Not easy.

We try to persuade the tech worshipers to bet on tech slowing down and ameliorating warming, not preventing it. We try to get the rich to realize that money doesn't always win out, and besides, their investments may not stay good forever. We also try to get the more rational to buy into things like President Obama's green jobs agenda, and recognize this isn't socialist or whatever. If 5-10 percent of denialists and semi-denialists in those two groups can be "picked off," it's a decent start.

Conservative evangelicals? Let more liberal evangelicals like Jim Wallis take the lead. True fundamentalists? They're not changing.

Still not easy, but not impossible.

With all groups, another avenue is to point out the side benefits of fighting global warming. No. 1 is, of course, reduced petroleum usage. Better health, less noise pollution from smaller engines and other things are all important, too.

The overall point is to note that changes in beliefs ... even for someone like me, moving to a version of atheism and grounded in philosophy ... at least subsegments of such changes aren't always rational as to "why" they happened. Tipping points is a nice phrase ... but behind that, even, sometimes there's elements of chance.

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