The Politics and Demographics of Climate Change Denial
I suspect that after I listed some commonly accepted (by the scientific establishment) factoids, you have come to the conclusion that our planet is suffering from a deterioration of the environment due to one major trend – heating up of the atmosphere all over the world.
In our last discussion, I pointed out that about 14% of Americans don’t “believe” in global warming and about 30% question whether or not human activity contributes to global warming. Yet a huge majority of scientists accept the data.
And most Americans do, too. Nevertheless, global warming was not a major presence in American politics – even in the 2012 elections (it was too “hot” a topic). Only when President Barack Obama won reelection did the he bring up the topic as an important issue.
We need to consider why some of our fellow citizens do not accept the data and vociferously defy the people who spend their lives and vast sums of our money studying weather phenomena, climate and the populations of animals and plants. Science is based on facts. Nothing that has not been proven to exist by the senses can be accepted as true. The 45 million people I mentioned don’t “believe” what the senses of many scientists have observed over the years.
Thermometers don’t lie, nor do the majority of scientists. Why can’t they lie? Because anyone with a thermometer can check their assertions. Why would this large number of independent and government-salaried specialists lie? A NOAA technician records the data he sees; his salary does not change based on the data he records. He sees a rapidly rising temperature trend.
Why do we need to look at these people who defy the reality of science? Because they exist in contiguous pockets of “believers” and, since this is a democracy, their localization makes them an inordinately powerful influence on a government that depends on pluralities. Why do I call the disbelievers “believers”? Because their religious beliefs render impossible the acceptance of worldwide change, as recorded by data-collecting instruments and summarized by scientists.
During the last election, there appeared to be an anti-science – indeed anti-intellectual – movement among conservatives. That trend seems to have evolved from a long-past election when a Republican vice presidential candidate labeled intellectuals (scientists, professors, etc.) “effete snobs”.
The pockets of people who do not “believe” in science run across the “bible belt”, primarily the middle section of the country, and mostly reside in rural areas. Some states with relatively small, insular populations (Wyoming, Kansas, the Dakotas) have inordinate clout. Every state is entitled to two senators; every state has a governor. Thus, a small, concentrated group of “believers” who need to believe in a static world, can paralyze a country – or by virtue of their fervor, water down laws that affect the nation as a whole.
Further, if a governor responds to his constituents, he will approve bills from the state legislature that render Supreme Court decisions (decided, ironically, by a conservative Court) virtually ineffectual. Witness the efforts of Governor Rick Perry to resist any effort by the Texas state legislature to mitigate global warming, in favor of a prayer meeting to address the fact that a substantial part of Texas experienced a severe drought.
Compounding the issues surrounding “belief” in global warming is the fact that the historical record is replete with cycles of warming and cooling. Arguments that our warming trend can be accounted for by natural cycles compose the foundation of the deniers’ philosophy. The last natural glacial epoch happened around 12,000 years ago.
The Earth has been gradually warming since – this trend has been so gradual as to allow animals and plants to adjust genetically. In general, it takes hundreds of generations to change the traits of a species (or evolve a new species) to tolerate even a minor environmental change. It is ironic that this argument is used by people who believe that the Earth was created around 5,000 years ago – but then, some don’t “believe” in evolution.