Rejecting Climate Change: Not Science Denial, but Regulation Phobia
is a paper by Professor Edward L. Rubin of the Vanderbilt University Law School. Is he respectable? I don't know. I come to this from an article in the Graun recommended by Bart
, who is normally sensible. When I came to read the abstract I recognised it, but as something that I hadn't felt inclined to finish when I first saw it. So now I'll try a bit harder.
The beginning, it seems clear that the most significant impediment to a worldwide effort to combat the disastrous consequences of climate change is the United States.1 It seems equally clear that the reason why the United States has assumed such a counterproductive role is the existence of a set of attitudes within its political discourse that is generally described as climate change denial
is perhaps defensible but not how I'd put it. For reasons I tried to explain just recently
. This could be described as a matter of exposition of interpretation. But a few paras later we come to footnote 3: Climate change denial is the official position of the Republican Party
. This is quite simply a lie. You may strongly dislike the GOPs position on GW, and you may well think it unwise, unscientific, unthinking, and un-many-other-things; I certainly do. But to allow your enthusiasm to overrun into lying that it is their official policy
is denial unacceptable. Is this really an academic paper, that passed peer review? Or is it just one bloke's ranting? Certainly, there's no pretence at unbias.
But continuing we come to Underlying these two groups of elite actors, however, is a broad base of support within the American populace. Business firms, whose self-interest is obvious, would have difficulty persuading people ofsomething they were not prepared to believe. Politicians whose positions depend on being elected are unlikely to announce or support views that are antithetical to a large majority of their constituents
, which I'm happier with. As regular readers know, I've said much the same myself.
Then we immeadiately hit the problematic, and central, ...number of studies that assess public attitudes toward climate change... agree on several basic observations regarding those who deny that anthropogenic global warming is a reality. First, the deniers are willing to reject an overwhelming scientific consensus that the problem exists and poses a serious or possibly catastrophic threat to the welfare of future generations
. I don't think it is reasonable to characterise a substantial number - close to 50% perhaps - of USAnians as denialists. It is certainly true (IMO) that if you allowed a popular vote on "should Obama's plans for dealing with GW be implemented?", then a majority would vote no. But that is a different question. Most would be voting largely on ignorance, not denial. The number of actual denialists is much smaller; perhaps 10%; I wouldn't really want to try to put a number on it.
Again, I point you towards my earlier work: Talking past each other: Trump Pick for Top Environment Post: Carbon Dioxide Is 'The Gas of Life'
. But I need to expound it further, it seems:
Most people (you must be aware of this) don't make decisions on how to vote, or on what attitude to have towards various issues, based on a close and careful (and expensive, in terms of time) study of the issues. They adopt attitudes based on friends, family, respected pols, meeja, and (importantly) how they fit into their world view in general. And, conversely, how they see those issues presented by their "enemies". If people you dislike tell you in strident terms that you must
do such-and-such a thing or you will be a Bad Person in their eyes... can you really believe that works? What if these people not only tell you that, but wrap up all presented solutions to the problem in the guise least favourable to your worldview? That is what we're seeing with GW. This is what we're seeing with this paper (including the comical ideas at the end).
The abstract ends with The reason they do so in this case is that a rational policy to combat climate change seems to demand a major alteration of society. Combatting climate change not only expands the scope of regulation, but involves regulations that effect a major transformation of our basic economic system and our personal lifestyles. Almost uniquely (toleration would be another case), it demands a transformation of internalized attitudes. This has produced what can be fairly described as a phobic reaction among many people, that is, an irrational and persistent fear of a given situation. The article concludes by considering some policies that might circumvent this phobic reaction: mass transit for commuting, intelligent homes, and the encouragement of local food production. In each case, these policies create appealing options for people without demanding major changes in their lifestyle
You're a Nice Person, no doubt. Maybe you're even Dutch :-). When you read the bit about "mass transit for commuting" your head nodded happily: you like
mass transit (although obviously bicycles are better). Everyone
should like mass transit (second to bicycles). How could anyone think differently? You might have felt a touch queasy about "the encouragement of local food production"; it causes you to wonder if that is really going to help against GW? Is it really sufficiently important to mention at this level; indeed, would it help at all? But nonetheless the author clearly has his "heart in the right place" so you feel reassured. But unfortunately the Bad People don't feel like that, so all these happy ideas are doomed. They all amount to Moah Regulation and Moah government. Because they are minor, and because they would (being market-distorting ideas) effectively generate rents for some people, there is some chance they might actually happen; sometimes it seems that in general, the stupider the idea the more chance it has of happening.
Really, I'm trying to say a variation of what I said in Morality and economics
. And that didn't get through, so I doubt this will. That if you want to speak to the perhaps 50% who don't agree with you, you'll need to find a better way to speak; and to present solutions that aren't designed to grate.
* IoT Cybersecurity: What's Plan B?
by Schneier on Security is probably an example of what might be good regulation (but it looks to be meeting the fate of all good things).
* PUBLIC CHOICE THEORY AND THE POLITICS OF GOOD AND EVIL
- contains some decent thoughts, even if I don't agree with it all.