What's up with these people?

We've known for a long time that climate change is a really dangerous thing. We've waited and waited for the government to address it, and gotten instead a lot of failure, procrastination, and cowardice. Now we're seeing our worst fears beginning become reality, with drought, crop failure, killer heat, and floods making their appearance.

With all this, a lot of Americans STILL don't want to hear about addressing the problem. This division on what should be a straightforward response to an obvious threat - like DUH, of course we had to oppose the Nazis - undermines our ability to act. What I want to do here is explore a little why so many are like this.  

First up, I want to share a compelling comment from The Oil Drum (a great blog). The comment was written by ROCKMAN (yes, the name is all-caps), who works in oil & gas drilling in LA and TX.

(FYI - A couple of years ago ROCKMAN got the Fishgrease seal of approval right here on dkos:

ROCKMAN. Whoever this old guy is, he knows his shit .... I value, and will defer to his opinion on anything.
So said our dear, departed Fishgrease.)

Getting to the point, ROCKMAN did a little research at the drilling site:

I spent yesterday in the field dealing with the location builds for 3 of my new wells. Had a lot of time just standing and waiting so shot the sh*t with a number of Joe6Packs. Some were oil patch with others strictly construction hands. So as an experiment I initiated a number of conversations about those envirowackos and their stupid ideas about global warming. Needless to say comments about factual data had little play. Most of these J6P's weren't dumb sh*ts incapable of understanding the science behind the subject. A couple had college degrees. To make a long story short here's a synopsis of what I heard from them:

"global warming - blah blah blah - BS - blah blah blah - less gasoline for us - blah blah blah - more f'king taxes - blah blah blah - more f'king regulations - blah blah blah - fewer f'king jobs - blah blah blah - they ain't going to tell me how to live my f'king life - blah blah blah."

[ED - check the f-words! Like our man Fishgrease said ....]

Notice virtually nothing in these conversations dealt with whether AGW was real or not. There was nothing about impacts on other folks around the world. There was nothing about the impact on future generations...even their own future families.

That's who we're dealing with. You get the feeling this group thinks everything sucks anyway, why bother trying to do something, why bother coming out of their shells at all.

To help us in our attempts to understand the opposition, ROCKMAN defines a new category for these people:

Maybe we should change the terminology into two camps: AGW deniers and AGW rejecters. The deniers say the envirowackos are wrong and it either isn't happening or it's happening naturally. The rejecters, if you got them to admit the truth, would agree AGW exists and that there will be very negative consequences down the road. But their priority is maintaining BAU so they have to reject AGW.

IMHO the bulk of the resistance to mitigating AGW isn't based upon science but economic self interest. I don't think building a stronger science argument will likely change the situation significantly.

Which is a profound conclusion. We climate people are always into the science: the latest on the arctic ice, Jennifer Francis, and so on. I guess in part we have to be, to deal with the misinformation thrown around, and in part we like it that way. But he's right. More science is not really going to convince these people. Not by itself, anyway.

We go on till we're blue in the face about how all the major scientific societies support the consensus view of global warming science. But it doesn't get us where we need to be.

The same issue is discussed in a recent article entitled Climate Science as Culture War, by Andrew Hoffman:

Acceptance of the scientific consensus is now seen as an alignment with liberal views consistent with other “cultural” issues that divide the country (abortion, gun control, health care, and evolution). This partisan divide on climate change was not the case in the 1990s. It is a recent phenomenon, following in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty that threatened the material interests of powerful economic and political interests, particularly members of the fossil fuel industry. The great danger of a protracted partisan divide is that the debate will take the form of what I call a “logic schism,” a breakdown in debate in which opposing sides are talking about completely different cultural issues.
Climate skepticism is not a knowledge deficit issue. Michigan State University sociologist Aaron McCright and Oklahoma State University sociologist Riley Dunlap have observed that increased education and self-reported understanding of climate science have been shown to correlate with lower concern among conservatives and Republicans and greater concern among liberals and Democrats.
Putting it all together, much of our public leadership on climate still comes from scientists - people like James Hansen, Michael Mann, and even Heidi Cullen, PhD. Unfortunately it seems this group will have a hard time reaching ROCKMAN's rejecters or McCright and Dunlop's educated Republicans, since science isn't what drives their thinking - instead it's cultural ID and perceived short-term economic self-interest.

This is a problem. We really need leaders in other arenas to step up and make the connections here. (Recently Harry Reid did, out of the blue and very well.) We need other politicians, farmers, business leaders, outdoorsmen and women, religious leaders, etc., to step up and speak in ways their communities will hear.

Most importantly we need the president to show up. I continue to believe that Mr. Obama could offer great leadership on this most important issue. First, as president, his voice would be heard by many people. Second, and perhaps more importantly, he has shown himself able to frame issues in a way that resonates with middle America. Witness his recent round of speeches on the necessity of saving the middle class. This paragraph from the Hoffman article describes the rhetoric he excels at:

More generally, one can seek possible broker frames that move away from a pessimistic appeal to fear and instead focus on optimistic appeals that trigger the emotionality of a desired future. In addressing climate change, we are asking who we strive to be as a people, and what kind of world we want to leave our children. To gain buy-in, one can stress American know-how and our capacity to innovate, focusing on activities already under way by cities, citizens, and businesses.
This is is. We need climate leadership that accepts climate science as a given and focuses instead on morality and economics. It IS a moral issue for us. Do we want to leave the world a mess? Ought we not listen to the better angels of our nature, and use our talents to give ourselves and our children a chance? And it is an economic issue as well - we here all know how much it's cost us recently dealing with weather disasters. And we all know this price tag will only going to go up. This point has to be driven home in a way that Rockman's rejecters can hear it.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to the organizers of the blogfest and all the writers.

Originally posted to Climate Change SOS on Thu Aug 23, 2012 at 08:34 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Moving Planet, and J Town.


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