in a piece titled Interests, Ideology and Climate in today's New York Times.
His opening paragraph provides a frame:
There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult.He does not think that the monetary stakes are as big a reason as do many others - although obviously people whose income comes from carbon-based fuels are playing a major role in the opposition. Yet even for some of them Krugman thinks it is less the matter of money than it is that of ideology. As he writes,
What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else — a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism.For example, there simply are not that many jobs in coal. In that industry, as production has gone up employment has plummeted , with most coal now produced by strip-mining and mountaintop removal. Coal-mining has lost 2/3 of the 250,000 jobs it had in the 1970s. As Krugman notes,
At this point, coal mining accounts for only one-sixteenth of 1 percent of overall U.S. employment; shutting down the whole industry would eliminate fewer jobs than America lost in an average week during the Great Recession of 2007-9.So what are the real reasons for the strong opposition? How about ideology and anti-intellectualism?
Or put it this way: The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost.
And what if some of the biggest players in the energy industry are driven more by ideology than by economics?
And what if they use the wealth they have to try to drive the political agenda to their ideology?
What if that agenda is Libertarian and their intellectual hero is Ayn Rand?
Yes, I am talking about the brothers Koch.
Please keep reading.
Yes, I am
There are two back to back paragraphs, one long and one relatively short, in which Krugman lays out his thesis:
Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.What is key for Krugman's analysis is his observation of how this connects with the unfortunate strong strand of anti-intellectualism in American culture. A parallel column on today's op ed page of the Times is by Charles M. Blow who examines recent polling data which shows a substantial portion of the American populace still takes Genesis literally. Such an attitude - which believes in Young Earth Creationism (the world only a few millenia old with man created in current form by a Divine being) - is already hostile to a science that talks about Big Bang Explosions and Evolution, both demonstrable by scientific evidence.
And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.
Krugman puts the pieces together in this paragraph:
It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.Remember that David Koch was the Libertarian candidate for Vice President in 1980. It does not matter what his personal beliefs may be about science (h has funded a wing at the Museum of Natural History in New York) or that he graduated from MIT (where he still holds the career record of 12 ppg for the basketball team). He understands the way anti-scientism can be used to fuel a political pushback against science as a mean of undermining support for government regulation. That the science clashes with his economic interests gives him and his brother the motivation to use their wealth to try to shape the political processes.
It is as toxic a brew as are the chemicals used in fracking, a process that science is increasingly showing to be causing earthquakes as well as polluting ground water and poisoning the soil and the people where it is being done.
Of course, even with their wealth the Koch Brothers are not the sole drivers of the opposition to science and the obstructionism against taking meaningful action on climate change. Then there are the politicians. Some, like Paul Ryan, are truly ideologues - after all, Ryan has lauded the work of Ayn Rand and used to give her work to his staffers. There are others whose personal beliefs are irrelevant, because they have made clear their intent to pander to a strand of American thought, particularly in the South but also elsewere especially in many small towns and rural areas, that remains hostile to science as a threat to their religious beliefs, people who are easily manipulated politically against what is often their own best interests economically. I would put Marco Rubio in this class, and probably Rand Paul as well. Ted Cruz, given his father, may well believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. That does not matter.
What matters is the end result, which is that to combat global climate change we must deal with an opposition of "economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science."
To that observation by Krugman I would add the explosive nature of raw political ambition by some seeking the Republican nomination for President, and others who seek to keep or obtain Republican support for other offices, federal, state and local. People such as these are more than happy to work in collusion with the likes of the Brothers Koch, whose libertarianism and greed are inextricably interwoven with their wealth being derived from carbon-based fuels - it is perhaps worth noting that their various economic interests are among those most likely to benefit from Keystone XL, that they are already persistently in violation of current environmental regulation, and have a hostility to any government that might restrict their freedom of action learned at the knees of a father who helped establish the John Birch Society.
Krugman concludes that to fight global warming we have a need
to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.That is true, but perhaps incomplete.
We have to overcome greed - for power as well as money.
We have to overcome prejudice and deliberate misinformation, fueled by the wealth of those whose political as well as economic interests put them in opposition to much scientific thought, and which motivates them to try to "buy" scientific and economic "research."
Most of all, we have to overcome a part of American Exceptionalism that is very unfortunate, and it is the populist strand that is so easily riled up that has fueled the KKK, hostility to science, prejudice against people of other faiths and other skin colors, those whose ideas of human relations would justify bigotry and discrimination towards those whose sexual orientation and expression is different than their interpretation of the Bible.
It is unfortunate that we place so much emphasis on wealth in this country, because that gives those who have it outsized influence upon shaping the politics and the beliefs of the nation in a way that is harmful not merely to America's democracy and economics, but to the future of the world.
Krugman provides a useful analysis.
It is a good frame through which we can examine more closely the opposition to taking meaningful action on global warming.