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The first version of this post contained several factual errors, for which I deeply apologize. These errors have been corrected.

% of normal July rainfall, July 2012
What, me worry? (Rainfall figures, USDA)
When news first broke a couple of weeks ago that nearly the entire surface of Greenland's entire ice sheet had melted into slush, many who follow the daily grind of the polls and gaffes of the two men vying to occupy the White House for the next four years were given a brief moment of pause. Arguments about tax returns, marginal rates, and who built what business with exactly how much outside help begin to seem trivial when compared to questions about what will happen to New York City if the rest of the mainland sheet dissolves into the deep blue sea.

These concepts are not new: Given the possibility for catastrophe associated with climate change, it's hard to understand why it hasn't been more of a focus. Now, given the glaring frequency with which extreme weather events are dotting the landscape and the admission of anthropogenic warming even by those who are paid to deny it, perhaps the situation will finally get the attention it warrants.

But even if it does, there will be those who stand in the way of anything resembling the type of action it would take to address the problem. Typically, the people who oppose climate change are thought to do so because of short-term financial considerations: There are obviously those in the fossil fuel industry and other businesses who profit directly from the very activities that are warming the climate. But as powerful as these industries are at dictating policy in the United States and throughout the world, both logic and emotion seem dictate that they would eventually be overwhelmed by a unification of opposing forces, even on the right wing, who value the preservation of society over shorter-term profit. Unfortunately, that assumes that the right wing is interested in preserving society as we know it, and this assumption could be gravely mistaken.

Both progressives and conservatives feel that they are ideologically superior to the other, but the rationale behind that superiority differs dramatically. The sense of progressive superiority arises from the belief that our political positions will give the greatest number of people the greatest chance at happiness and success, all while preserving our planet in the process. This is the spirit that underlies progressive political positions: tax justice, strong unions and investment in infrastructure will give our middle class a better chance to succeed, even if it costs the wealthy a little more. Environmental regulations will keep people healthier and preserve our world's legacy, even if it costs factory owners more to implement them. Women and the LGBT community deserve full equality by nature of being just as human as straight men. Many of us support further regulation of assault weapons because it gives people a better chance of staying alive. We tend to oppose wars of choice for the same reason.

In short, we recognize that while we have made many improvements, society is not just, and we seek, to paraphrase Dr. King, to bend the arc of the universe a bit further in that direction. For progressives, global warming is obviously a major bummer: The economy will be drastically affected, and there will be untold suffering for those who are displaced by rising sea levels without the wherewithal to relocate. We take it seriously, but still, not as seriously as we perhaps should.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

Conservative positions, however, are often on the perceived superiority of the self. This used to be a more implicit phenomenon, but the ever-increasing radicalism of the conservative movement has distilled this in recent years. These days, the Right discusses economic theory not just from a supply-side viewpoint, but with a perspective informed substantially by an objectivist philosophy that divides the economy into producers and parasites: They are the industrious, the producers, the people who make everything happen, the people who deserve success. The parasites, meanwhile, are the people undeservedly supported by the indecent constructs of a society that places too much value on preserving the inferior, and engenders dependency in the process. The producers aren't simply more fortunate: They're better than everyone else, they'll make it no matter what, and the parasite are crimping their style. "Going Galt" is a fantasy to be aspired to.

Social policy follows a similar vein: Women and the LGBT community don't deserve equal rights because divine providence said so. In this worldview, straight men are superior just by virtue of being straight men, and equally as virtuous, though certainly with less independence, are the women who accept the god-given superiority of those same straight men. This superiority has been granted by the divine, and the divine will provide for (and perhaps rapture) those who adhere to these principles.

Meanwhile, a third significant conservative voting bloc are the gun rights activists. Many of them are explicitly seeking to be better prepared for a breakdown in the social order, whether temporary or systemic. These are the people who firmly believe that if only they had been in that fateful theater in Aurora, Colorado, that they would have ended the killing spree singlehandedly because they are badasses. They believe that their arsenal will preserve them and their property against invasion from without or insurrection from within, as well as riots engendered by the aforementioned parasites.

The unifying element behind these conservative beliefs is a feeling of personal superiority, combined with a belief that society should no longer seek to preserve those who are inferior; whether that superiority is engendered by wealth, faith or a personal sense of toughness is secondary. Ultimately, however, it means that key elements of the right wing have far less of a stake in the preservation of society. The producers believe that their personal wealth and industrious nature will allow them to succeed no matter what. Many theocrats feel that the breakdown of society is in fact a necessary precursor to the second coming. And the gun nuts have been preparing for that exact eventuality regardless.

Even if the right wing stops denying climate science and accepts that we are heading for severe consequences, we still haven't asked a fundamental question: We simply assume that they have as much will to preserve society as we do. Are we wrong?

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