Climate dissenters seen as ‘crazy’ denialists

This piece is political but I was surprised by it. It gives me a bit of hope for the future.

Voters think Republican climate dissenters ‘crazy’, bipartisan poll finds | Environment |

Results show risks that deniers in Congress pose to GOP as majority of younger constituents back Obama’s carbon plans.

I won’t go into the partisanship and the complex ideas behind why this is but focus on this bit right here:

A few former Republican members of Congress – and an anonymous congressional aide – have publicly warned the party will lose voters, especially among the young, if it is seen as anti-science.

Obama, who has grown more high-profile about climate change in his second term, has played into those perceptions, calling out Republican climate cranks as “flat-earthers” in his climate speech last month.

At the moment there is no sign elected Republicans are eager for a climate makeover. At a Senate environment and public works hearing this week on climate change Republican Senators freely aired their personal doubts on established climate science and attacked Obama for failing to show “tolerance” to their alternative views.

So does this suggest that anti-science is not being tolerated? Is this a generational thing where the old guard still clings to antiquated ideas and methods while a younger generation is more open to change? I’m not sure. But I see a few clues here — first, that there is insider rumor that the denialist views are causing problems. I’m not sure what to make of that except to think that new staff is not buying into the old dogma. Second, this old excuse about “tolerance” is obvious nonsense when the alternative views make little sense, are not supported by anyone but cranks and non-scientists and that the incoming data are also not supporting them. Time to face reality. Science works.

  12 comments for “Climate dissenters seen as ‘crazy’ denialists

  1. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 10:34 AM

    1. Conservative politics in the US are currently not driven by either leadership, or by voter’s desires. They are driven by the conservative infotainment media (Limbaugh, Beck, etc.) that have absolutely no incentive to win elections. They do better when their party doesn’t win. They will not change any time soon on this topic, as being anti-climate science has become a badge of honor.

    2. This may well keep the GOP out of the presidency (along with the constant GOP attacks on women, the continued problems with non-white people, etc.). And it may well continue to keep a senate majority from them. But at the local and House level, there are two problems. First, voting in the US is now primarily based on identity politics, especially though not exclusively race, religion, and class. Two of these (race and class), are intertwined (and religion loosely correlates in a much less predictable manner with these as well), and correlate fairly well with geography (cities vs. suburbs vs. exurbs). Combine this with congressional district gerrymandering, and you have a recipe for absolutely no change in the House. This is why Congress is hated, but most members will be returned.

    So yes, there is a generational shift on this topic, but its effects will not be seen for quite some time except perhaps at the broadest national level, where the GOP brand has been severely damaged the younger people are.

    The fascinating/appalling story is why climate change has become such a standard for the American conservative to wave. It’s not any one reason, but a whole bunch of them that have all piled on top of each other, including

    – religious conservatives that either think the End Times are near, or who think humans can’t effect God’s work
    – anti-intellectual/”elite” disdain for academics and experts
    – Leftover 60s hatred of Earth Day “hippies”
    – oil industry efforts to cast doubt on the science for economic self-interest reasons
    – antigovernment sentiments on the right (for lots of reasons outside this issue) that automatically make any government effort to regulate or fix problems, evil. This, btw, is where the confluence with conspiracy theory would lie.

    None of it is because of the science. This is one of the big lessons skeptics need to learn, I think, that much of the antiscience they fight can’t necessarily be answered by simply explaining the science more to its biggest critics. Deeper political and symbolic issues of identity and history are usually at play. It has to be handled politically, and that is done in two ways.

    The first is to realize that one is dealing with the political forces of the sort mentioned above.

    The second, and I cannot stress this enough, is to realize that you don’t win in politics by debating an ardent opponent until they see things your way. You win by creating new allies, typically from people who did not have a hardened and strongly-held opinion on whatever the topic is. In this sense, the story is good news, because it means that maybe in 10-20 years the climate science fight will be mostly over as the Fox News audience naturally dwindles (I’m trying to be polite here), and the younger generations on this issue at least have solidly shifted towards climate science.

    The larger lesson for science educators at all levels would be to focus on those who might be interested, but aren’t firmly committed. It can’t be reactive in a debate or poo-flinging fashion. One needs to ignore that and focus on presenting an independent and more successful message and product.

  2. Barn
    August 2, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    If Republicans don’t change their approach to Climate Change, they will be a laughingstock. The fact is, though, every time one of us changes to CFL light bulbs and recycles a can, tens of thousands of people overseas are becoming middle class and starting to drive cars. Adding resource-sucking appliances to their homes. Power plants are being built by the hour. And of biggest concern, more people are being born.

    It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned with “Climate Change,” as the numbers suggest there’s a problem; it just means that we probably can’t do that much about it individually or as a country unilaterally. (Or, should we insist that people in other countries can’t have the advantages we have here?) Many liberals want to think the answers are simple (more solar, please!), but the fact is, they aren’t.

  3. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Barn, there is a massive difference between saying a problem is difficult, and saying it is part of a massive conspiracy (which is basically what anti-climate science believers are arguing is going on in the scientific community, never mind outside of it).

    This is the problem with American politics, and it’s been one that has been slowly but surely developing over the last forty years, but finally coming to a head in the last 10. Our political system can function if there are two large parties with differing ideas about how to solve problems and advance agendas.

    It cannot survive if you have one party that has ideas about how to solve problems and advance agendas, and another party whose primary appeal to voters is a moral panic over ethnic and religious identity. As we are seeing, this is not a viable situation.

  4. Chris Howard
    August 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    All this political stuff makes me wonder if the US will ever shift to a more evidence based policy system, or if the system will remain in the deeply flawed, and dysfunctional ideology/faith based mess we have today?

  5. Barn
    August 2, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Spookyparadigm, that was the point of my first sentence. But it still bothers me that some of the bigger issues get swept under the rug in favor of simplistic feel-good suggestions that take us no closer to real solutions. Both parties should be searching for those.

  6. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    I know you stated it, but I think the point needs to be re-iterated.

    And second, I view the “feel-good” suggestions as part of the same problem. The American right has dragged this so far in their direction, the left capitulated and went for something useless in the middle, something corporate friendly with no real effect.

    See the evolution of the health care law, where massive conspiracy-theory laden campaigning by the American right dragged the DNC and the Obama administration to ultimately settle on a flawed moderate-conservative version of health care insurance reform that had been promoted by pro-corporate GOP a decade earlier. This was, in the fact-free American right, still proof of a Satanic Islamic Communist Atheist conspiracy.

    I don’t have the answers on greenhouse gasses. But I can tell you that changing lightbulbs comes from the right-wing opposition to actual international treaties and efforts shifting the argument.

    You say both parties should be searching for real solutions. The problem is, on virtually every issue, one party is living in a fantasy world of conspiracy theory and moral panic and ethnic outrage. Having an actual opposition party, and not a series of rolling rumor panics, would be quite nice indeed.

  7. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    Actually, I’ll add to that. I didn’t want to just re-iterate it, but clarify, especially in regards to the mission of this site.

    The GOP could have an approach that would still be wrong-headed and laughable, as you note. But what they really have is way beyond that, and it is the sort of thing that this site generally addresses. That most of what issues from the American right is conspiracy theory is a major development in the social health of the United States, and it is tied to some of the more obvious stories that are covered here (the never-ending stream of pushing Creationism in school districts and states, for example).

  8. spookyparadigm
    August 2, 2013 at 1:41 PM


    I can point to actual elected GOP who talk of Evolution as being of the Devil, who talk about demons, who legislate based on conspiracy theories (Agenda 21 comes to mind but there are others), and so on. Never mind the bulk of the party that continues to do only symbol-based legislation, such as yesterday when they again voted to ensure that ACORN gets no funds (which of course it can’t as it hasn’t existed for three years). And that’s not even touching the absolutely bugshit insane amongst the conservative media industry.

    The two parties, and the two ideological wings are not equally nuts, whether you like it or not. I think there is a strong case that such false equivalence, the “two sides” media narrative, has aided the increasing madness of the American right.

  9. August 2, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Careful you guys, no shouting. I’m having to edit.

  10. Barn
    August 2, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    Edit away, Sharon. I think the emotional hysteria is getting a little over the top anyway. As I do with some other conversations I will just quietly back away…

  11. Alex
    August 3, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    My father, who is a Ph.D in Astrophysics, highly doubts that global warming truly exists. The Earth may be hotter, but that is part of the natural climate cycle. In the ’60s, people thought that we were entering into a new ice age. The data on global warming is far too politicized. We need impartial investigation into the extend of global warming. But I, a member of the new generation of republicans (that is, more libertarian), believe that we should go green and be environmentally conscious. We just need to take the politics out of science and be skeptic about what we are being fed…which is the good thing about this site.

  12. spookyparadigm
    August 4, 2013 at 8:08 AM


    1.) Do you you think global warming was discovered by scientists with a political bent?

    2.) If the data is clear, why are virtually all climate scientists in agreement with models suggesting rapid global warming due to human modification of the atmosphere?

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