I ended my last post by noting that if we are to avoid devastating the planet and ourselves through climate change, drastic action is needed immediately. If you ask me, that’s been clear for a long time, but the truth has been denied by climate change deniers. Climate change deniers dislike the word “denial” because it comes from the psychological mechanism of denial, like addicts who deny that they have an addiction.
Perhaps climate change deniers do have an illness like addiction, or perhaps it is something even worse.
In a recent OpEd, Paul Krugman compares the denial of climate change to the denial that cigarette smoking is harmful. According to him, tobacco companies knew for decades that smoking was harmful, but undertook a cynical campaign to try to discredit the science around smoking. Why? Money. They were willing to let hundreds of thousands die in order to preserve profits. The denial of climate change, he says, has been undertaken by fossil fuel companies for precisely the same reason, using precisely the same tactics (and, in fact, using some of the same organizations to conduct the campaign). He also gives a nod to mistrust of government regulation, which will be required to address climate change (while also poking fun at it, noting that their mistrust somehow manages to allow governments to force consumers to subsidize coal. Thus, the real motivation is reduced back to money.) Krugman concludes that this is not just misguided, it is depraved.
The amazing thing is that their nonsense has taken hold of an entire political party (the Republicans) and a great number of people in this state (Missouri). It reminds one of how Naziism took hold of a large number of people in Germany during the 1930s. We look back and ask how rational people could have believed such obvious nonsense, such vile evil? Could such things happen in the USA? Well, try reading The Paranoid Style in American Politics for a starter. Of course it could.
The climate change deniers I have known fall into two camps. Some are simple people who are just repeating what they have heard their neighbors say, or what they have seen in the conservative media they like to follow. Others are more informed. These deniers like to see themselves as skeptics, but to me they seem pervasively suspicious, oppositional, and perhaps even querulous. They are preoccupied with unjustifiable doubts, often seeing conspiracies where none exist. They focus on details or outright fabrications to prop up their denial, while ignoring vast amounts of fact, upon which they turn their back. Because not everything is known, they argue that nothing is known.
I received an email from one, a British lord no less, who comfortably turned his back on thousands of scientific references in an IPCC report, in favor of a column written by the host of an Australian children’s TV show. Well, he claimed, climate science is a vast conspiracy.
Is that paranoia? Has it gone so far as to be a psychotic delusion? Were the German people who supported Naziism deluded? Psychotic? At what point does fear of the future – I’m fearful, too, it would be silly not to be – turn into suspicion and paranoia?
Well, this IPCC report makes it clear that global warming, if left unchecked, is going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars yearly, and is going to ruin the lives of hundreds of millions. Clinging on to denial in the face of such facts, Krugman writes, is depraved. It is no longer a viable intellectual or political position, he argues, it is a sign of depravity.
Drastic change is required immediately if we are to avoid terrible damage to our planet. Even in only economic terms, the projected damage if we do nothing is absolutely staggering. But in addition to that, the lives of hundreds of millions will be ruined. Can humankind respond with the kind of immediate, large-scale planetary change that is required, or is it already too late? Will we act, or have we sold ourselves out to the forces of depravity?
Hofstadter, Richard. 1996. The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Originally published in 1952.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2018. Global Warming of 1.5°C (Draft). Downloaded 11/24/2018 from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15.
Krugman, Paul. “The Depravity of Climate-Change Denial.” The New York Times, November 26, 2018. Viewed online 12/1/2018 at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/opinion/climate-change-denial-republican.html.