By JR on Sunday, May 29, 2011
The Leftist Australian government recently released a "report" designed to prop up its proposed carbon tax. Neither the report nor the tax has gained much traction, however.
To explain that lack of traction, the piece from the Left-run "Sydney Morning Herald" below claims that climate skeptics are psychological cripples, unable to face the evidence.
Demonizing your enemy is classical wartime propaganda and Leftists do it even in peacetime. The first big attempt at it in peacetime erupted in 1950. It is amusing that a 1954 revision of that attack is revived below: The old two-dimensional account of ideology. That account never worked then and it is equally shallow today.
Believe it or not, the author below claims that skeptics are "hierachical/authoritarian" yet it is skeptics who reject authority and Warmists who embrace it! I think it is clear who the mental cripple is! The poor soul writing below has totally lost touch with reality. Would a diagnosis of schizophrenia be too extreme?
And, needless to say, there is not one fact cited below in support of the author's assertions about either climatology or psychology. It is all just bald assertion
I've been thinking a bit about the sea hare this week while observing the fallout from the Climate Commission's report, The Critical Decade. Wondering, too, about primitive human biology, about what factors interfere with our survival instinct - fear, fun, greed, legacy, even good old distracting lust.
The report is a powerful enunciation of what science now knows about climate change and the risks it poses. That the atmosphere and the oceans are warming, ice is being lost from glaciers and ice caps, sea levels are rising and the biological world is changing. "We know beyond reasonable doubt that the world is warming and that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary causes."
In the nuanced language of science, it doesn't get much stronger. As the American scientist Naomi Oreskes [Calling Oreskes a scientist is a condemnation of science] has observed, "History shows us clearly that science does not provide certainty. It does not provide proof.
It only provides the consensus of experts, based on the organised accumulation and scrutiny of evidence." And here we have it.
So how do you respond to such confronting news? Do you weigh the credentials of the speakers, study the evidence? Or do you switch it off, turn the page, scream and shout? According to psychological research by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale University, your reaction either way will have little to do with the strength of the arguments or the calibre of the science. It will have everything to do with whether it gels with, or offends, your deep-seated views about morality and how the world ought to work.
Yale law professor Dan Kahan's "cultural cognition of risk" theory attempts to explain public disagreement about the significance of empirical evidence by plotting individuals on two scales of cultural belief: individualists versus communitarians, based on the importance people attach to the public good when balanced against individual rights; and hierarchists versus egalitarians, based on their views of the stratification of society. Simply explaining the science to these audiences, he finds, will only serve to wedge the two sides.
The sliding scales are not unfamiliar. Think Tony Abbott as the archetypal suit-and-tie individual hierarchical - values clustered around free-market enterprise, personal achievement, industry, regard for authority (though not, it seems, scientific authority), traditional family, personal freedom; and Bob Brown is out there as your sandal-wearing communitarian egalitarian, protesting that pretty much everything Abbott cherishes damages all he holds dear.
Put a scientist in front of an audience of individual hierarchicals saying that global warming is high risk, and only 23 per cent of the audience will buy the speaker as trustworthy and knowledgeable. Same message, same scientist, and 88 per cent of egalitarian communitarians nod their heads.
Have the same author change tack to argue that warming is no great drama, and the Abbotts now lap it up (86 per cent), and the Browns wander off (46 per cent). The well-oiled machinery of manufactured denial knows how to push all these buttons.
Yale's audience testing finds the only factor likely to interfere with our psychological gatekeeping is if someone within our "camp" - someone we perceive as sharing our world view - says something unexpected. (Hence the reverberations in industry and markets when BHP chief Marius Kloppers last year urged rapid action to put a price on carbon emissions.) In short, evidence from someone you identify with will sway your view; science - facts - won't.
Same as it ever was, maybe. But new media helps us contrive a self-affirming information bubble, an echo chamber in which only our own beliefs are broadcast back to us. Debate in the US on the Yale findings prompted the reflection that our instincts in this regard mean - as one political scientist observed - "we are not well-adapted to our information age".
The findings also confirm that for all our modernity, tribal leaders remain critical. Leaders of all persuasions - political, religious, industrial, social - have immense power in influencing responses to the most diabolical of problems.
In the foreword to a new book debunking scepticism of science - Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand - Oreskes argues that fear is the major driver of denial. "Fear that our current way of life is unsustainable. Fear that addressing the issue will limit economic growth. Fear that if we accept government interventions in the market place . it will lead to a loss of personal freedom. Or maybe just plain old fear of change."
As economist John Kenneth Galbraith observed, all great leaders share one common characteristic - "the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time".