Saturday 27 November 2010

Why we resist the truth about Climate Change

Clive Hamilton is the co-author of the best book about Affluenza and earlier this year published the brilliant and frightening Requiem for a Species with Earthscan. Christine Ottery interviewed him in the late summer on the subject of being 'maladaptive', his thinking seems to have developed again with his latest article

Presented to Climate Controversies Science and Politics Conference in Brussels, 'Why we resist the truth about Climate Change' explains why climate change denial really has very little to do with scientific evidence and reason. Hamilton argues that denial-ism, especially in the US, has its roots in culture war:

Those on the left are as predisposed [as the right] to sift evidence through ideological filters; but in the case of global warming it happens that the evidence overwhelmingly endorses the liberal beliefs that unrestrained capitalism is jeopardising future well-being, that comprehensive government intervention is needed, and that the environment movement was right all along. For neo-conservatives accepting these is intolerable, and it is easier emotionally and more convenient politically to reject climate science. (p. 2)

Hamilton then uses two examples from history and one from literature to illuminate the nature of climate change denial. I'll leave you to read about Einstein Relativity in Weimar Germany and Camus' The Plague. I found the comparison between today's climate change denial and the wishful thinking in the UK that played down the threat of war in the run up to WWII most useful. Throughout the 1930's Winston Churchill and a small handful of others spoke repeatedly about the evidence suggesting that Nazi Germany was re-arming and preparing for a major assault on its European neighbours. Churchill was accused of being a 'doom-sayer' an 'alarmist' and a 'fear monger'. Hamilton explains why and compares the public reaction to what seems to be happening today:

[P]acifist sentiment among the British public, still traumatized by the memory of the Great War, provided a white noise of wishful thinking that muffled the warnings. Behind the unwillingness to re-arm and resist aggression lay the gulf between the future Britons hoped for—one of peace—and the future the evidence indicated was approaching—war in Europe, just as today behind the unwillingness to cut emissions lies the gulf between the future we hope for—continued stability and prosperity—and the future the evidence tells us is approaching—one of danger and sacrifice. (p. 11)

Today's Climate scientists and activists face a steeper challenge than Churchill faced, Climate Change arrives gradually and for many will be un-perceptible. A bomb landing on your house is instant. That is a big, big difference. The other big difference is that there is no clear enemy to attack and no justification to attack them militarily. But the analogy is useful because it explains to us the power of wishful thinking. As George Lakoff in his brilliant 'The Political Mind' explains it is very difficult to get people to accept facts that they don't want to believe. This is also explored in the WWF Common Cause paper, understanding that emotion, more often than reason, shapes attitudes and behaviour is so important to those involved in education for sustainability and sustainability communications.


David D said...

Classic Marxism.
The proletariat is unable to think clearly. This is obvious because they don't agree with me. Therefore they must be educated to think differently. Those that we are unable to educate must be eliminated (the lumpenproletariat).

Morgan Phillips said...

Ha, if in doubt accuse people of Marxism, classic tactic of the right. Remind me, was Churchill proved wrong? Was Churchill a Marxist?

mulp said...

Hitler was rabidly anti-Marxist, rabidly anti-"Jewish science", and he backed up his beliefs and words with actions.

Hitler would deny climate change. Stalin would claim Russian communists discovered it first. Which has a grain of truth.