Ideologies of denial

Published online 17 March 2011.

This is a brief look at a Naomi Klein appearance on Democracy Now (March 9th) as regards global warming denialism.

I don’t know if you’ve seen this already, but last Wednesday’s “Democracy Now” had a rather impressive guest appearance by Naomi Klein, who raised some rather disturbing questions about our political ideology.

From the title this DN interview, reproduced in Alternet, appears as another discussion of the Right’s ignorance of science, which indeed received an excellent diary here at yesterday.  Klein’s interview, however, has some important insights into what is going on with opinion polls about science.  First:

There’s overwhelming evidence that climate change is real now. It’s not just about reading the science. It’s about people’s daily experience. And yet, we’ve seen this remarkable drop, where, in 2007, 71—this is a Harris poll—71 percent of Americans believed climate change was real, and two years later, 51 percent of Americans believed it. So, a 20 percent drop. And we’ve seen a similar dramatic just the floor falling out in the same period in Australia, in the U.K. It’s not happening everywhere. It’s happening in countries that have very polarized political debates, where they have very strong culture wars.

The suggestion, then, is that “opinion” about climate change is not about climate change, but rather about one’s position in the culture wars — specifically, about the nature of one’s allegiance to the corporate culture responsible for most of the 85 milllion bbls./day crude-oil (and an equal carbon-equivalent of coal) burning habit.

Klein then continues to discuss how climate change threatens the Right’s agenda: you would have to deal with inequality, regulate corporations, have some real global governance, and so on.  She also criticizes the “green groups”:

But what I see is that the green groups, a lot of the big green groups, are also in a kind of denial, because they want to pretend that this isn’t about politics and economics, and say, “Well, you can just change your light bulb. And no, it won’t really disrupt. You can have green capitalism.” And they’re not really wrestling with the fact that this is about economic growth. This is about an economic model that needs constant and infinite growth on a finite planet. So we really are talking about some deep transformations of our economy if we’re going to deal with climate change.

So this is the point.  You have two levels of denial, chosen by “each side” in the culture wars:

1) science denial — yeah, there’s no connection between higher CO2 levels and higher temperatures, but remember that we believe this because we don’t like the DFHs who are dissing our Hummers, and

2) political economy denial — global warming is “real,” but it’s no biggie, all the government needs to do is pass some legislation promoting alternative energy and creating a “carbon market” in the next decade or two, and everything will be good.

Thus the ideologies of denial run deeper than the Right, and than science.  What’s important here, then, is not our fragile planet, which out of some amazing freak of nature offers us a livable biosphere.  Nah, we can’t really show that we care too much right now if our daily oil-burning habit ends up in some great desertification of farmlandwith corresponding famine in the next decade or two.  I guess we feel we can sacrifice the grandkids on the altar just fine.  What’s important is capitalism — we must save capitalism for a dying planet.

So this isn’t just about science, nor is it just about the Right.  In this light the standard “we need to vote for the status quo because the Republicans are batshit crazy” argument, pretty much about a third of they have left, isn’t looking so good.  The status quo is batshit crazy too, and in one sense it’s an even more dangerous batshit crazy because it doesn’t get anyone riled up.  You don’t see anyone talking “general strike” against government for its inaction on global warming, do you?

NB: I don’t know how many of you subscribe to Climate and Capitalism, but it seems to be fairly on top of the sort of things which Klein is discussing.  Could you give it a try?


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