Climate activists shoot themselves in the foot

Reading about Al Gore’s rant over at View from the Right, I found myself feeling sorry for the guy.  As Auster says, we conservatives know what it’s like to hold marginal views.  Gore blames some mysterious, sinister “they” for poisoning the public’s mind, but I think it’s really the recession that’s put climate change action on the backburner.  People will say they want to be good stewards–as they’ve been taught to say–but they really see environmentalism as a luxury good; it’s something a country indulges in when it’s got some spare cash.  Now that we don’t, to hell with the polar bears.  Still, it seems to me that advocates like Gore did a very bad job of putting their arguments across; they seem to have a conservative’s talent for taking what should have been a strong case and making it unattractive.  In fact, in a saner world, carbon emission reduction would have probably been a conservative cause.

The public relations mistake of environmentalists is that they assume that everyone is like them.  It’s not that the public is irrational (although it probably is).  The greens have spent most of their energy trying to play on irrational impulses instead of giving real arguments, but they misjudged the public’s irrational impulses.

First, it would have been pretty easy to reassure the public that a cap and trade treaty would amount to neither socialism nor world government, but they won’t really make that argument, because they actually think that the prospect of one-world communism makes emissions-reduction a more attractive proposal.  It’s probably what really fires a lot of them up about the issue.

Second, they forgot that normal people find misanthropy repugnant, and we don’t give a rat’s ass about polar bears.  It would be easy to make the argument that global warming is going to royally screw up our fellow human beings, but that argument can only be made if human beings aren’t a disease on “Mother” Earth.  Instead, every school child has been taught that humans are the meanest, least-cute, least-deserving of all animals.

Which brings me to number three:  brainwashing our children is really creepy.  Even though I agree with environmentalists on a lot of policy positions, I absolutely abhor the way they feel entitled to drill other people’s children, the captive public school audience, into activist drones.  There’s something seriously wrong with that, no matter what the cause.

Fourth, they couldn’t resist going for the cheep points, claiming every unusually hot day as evidence for global warming.  (If you’ve lived on a college campus, you’ll have seen how everyone else will be miserable when winter gives way to a brief but pleasant Indian summer.  The poor college kids work themselves into a fit over the good weather:  “Just think about what this means for Mother Earth!”)  This just made them look ridiculous, and inevitably when cold days came it was cited as evidence against global warming, which of course was equally spurious.

Fifth and finally, there are the irrationalities endemic in the scientistic upper class, who erroneously imagine that the same irrational responses are found in the population at large.  What I mean is the tendency of a certain sort to be irrationally impressed by lab coats, test tubes, big computers, and the like, and the sense that more complicated and more esoteric is more impressive.  This led them to hype the least reliable parts of their case.  Rather than focus on the robustly understood basic physics that undergirds the argument for anthropogenic global warming, they revel in the complexity of general circulation climate models, with their complicated feedbacks and innumerable subgrid models of this and that.  “It’s so complicated, you should just shut up and trust us.”  But for the average person, the more complex a model has to be, the more likely that it’s wrong.  (This latter is perhaps just a prejudice itself, but it’s one that I share, as does I suspect anyone else who’s spent much time on numerical modeling.)

Having spent a month of free time reading about it, I plan to start my overview of climate science–what is and isn’t known–within another couple of weeks.  As in my classes, my goal will be to illuminate key points rather than show off details, to explain rather than to overawe.

6 Responses

  1. “There is no “environmental catastrophe.” The catastrophe is the environment itself. The environment is what’s left to man after he’s lost everything. Those who live in a neighbourhood, a street, a valley, a war zone, a workshop – they don’t have an “environment”; they move through a world peopled by presences, dangers, friends, enemies, moments of life and death, all kinds of beings. Such a world has its own consistency, which varies according to the intensity and quality of the ties attaching us to all of these beings, to all of these places. It’s only us, the children of the final dispossession, exiles of the final hour – the ones who come into the world in concrete cubes, pick our fruits at the supermarket, and watch for an echo of the world on television – only we get to have an environment…

    What has congealed as an environment is a relationship to the world based on management, which is to say, on estrangement. A relationship to the world wherein we’re not made up just as much of the rustling trees, the smell of frying oil in the building, running water, the hubbub of schoolrooms, the mugginess of summer evenings. A relationship to the world where there is me and then my environment, surrounding me but never really constituting me. We have become neighbours in a planetary co-op owners’ board meeting. It’s difficult to imagine a more complete hell.” – L’insurrection qui vient

  2. First, it would have been pretty easy to reassure the public that a cap and trade treaty would amount to neither socialism nor world government,

    I don’t think the public would be all that receptive to the truth, that cap and trade is the next generation of government subsidies for investment bankers, public utilities, and other hooked-up interests.

  3. Hello M Paterson-Seymour,

    This is a good point, and I think it’s tied up with the ongoing concern at this blog over the erosion of regional cultures. After all, our relationship with nature is mediated by our culture. Even ignoring immigration, it’s hard to maintain a culture with a real connection to the local land if everybody lives in a different part of the country from where they grew up.

  4. the smell of frying oil in the building

    Mmm. +1.

  5. ” In fact, in a saner world, carbon emission reduction would have probably been a conservative cause.”

    Um, no. Wrong is wrong. Better messaging does not change that.

    Cap and trade is not a good thing, it is a wealth transfer scheme from the productive nations to the unproductive. Global warming to the extent it has happened (the Hudson froze solid during the Revolution so they could roll cannons across it, it hasn’t done that since) is not correlated to industrial processes, and there is no reliable statistical evidence that it has continued in the 1900s the way it was in the previous few centuries – in fact since 1996 or so temperatures have tended downwards. Environmentalist policy positions that make sense have all already been implemented, and could use some relaxing; the EPA enforcing rules about dust on farms is not sensible ecological maintenance, it is insanity. And finally if the planet DID warm a bit it is hardly proven that this would make it less hospitable for human beings – rather the contrary.

    I would suggest you do some searching of Jerry Pournelle’s site for these topics. He has had extensive discussions with readers on various sides of the issue and presents a lot of the evidence and possible ways to interpret it, as well as the limitations of what can actually be concluded from it.

  6. Hi Rollery,

    I think their case is stronger than that, but I’ll have to elaborate in my later posts.

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