28 April 2011
On August 4 1961, a young woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy in a hospital at 1611 Bingham Street, Honolulu. That child is now the 44th President of the United States. There is absolutely no doubt, none whatsoever, about the fact that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on that day in 1961.
Notwithstanding that simple fact, recent surveys reveal that only one in three Republicans accept that President Obama was born in Hawaii, with the remainder either believing that he was born outside the United States (some 45-51 per cent, depending on the particular poll) or professing uncertainty.
Yes, roughly half of Republicans ignore incontrovertible evidence – from a Hawaiian birth certificate to birth announcements in the papers to the fact that a pregnant woman went into hospital and left it cradling a baby. Those Republicans choose to believe the nonsensical instead; namely, that president Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia or the North Pole or some other distinctly un-American place.
What motivates people who, based on Republican demographics, likely earn a living in business or dentistry or some other well-paying job requiring at least a modicum of literacy, to take leave of their senses and to subscribe to patent absurdities instead?
On May 19 2010, the US National Academy of Sciences, America’s highest scientific body, summarised the current state of climate science particularly clearly: “Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”
The late Stephen Jay Gould referred to a fact as something that it would be “perverse to withhold provisional assent.” Notwithstanding the Academy’s clear statement about the existence of global warming and its human-made causes, recent surveys reveal that the majority of US Republicans do not accept this scientific fact.
Indeed, tragically and paradoxically, among Republicans acceptance of the science decreases with their level of education as well as with their self-reported knowledge: Whereas Democrats who believe they understand global warming better also are more likely to believe that it poses a threat in their lifetimes, among Republicans increased belief in understanding global warming is associated with decreased perception of its severity. The more they think they know, the more ignorant they reveal themselves to be.
What motivates people to reject trivially simple facts – such as the President’s place of birth – as well as more complex facts – such as insights from geophysics and atmospheric science?
The peer-reviewed psychological literature provides some insight into this question. Numerous studies converge onto the conclusion that there is a strong correlation between a person’s endorsement of unregulated free markets as the solution to society’s needs on the one hand, and rejection of climate science on the other. The more “fundamentalist” a person is disposed towards the free market, the more likely they are to be in denial of global warming.
But what do markets have to do with geophysics or the thermal properties of CO2?
The answer is that global warming poses a potential threat to laissez-faire business. If emissions must be cut, then markets must be regulated or at least “nudged” towards alternative sources of energy—and any possibility of regulation is considered a threat to the very essence of their worldview by those for whom the free market is humanity’s crowning achievement.
It is this deep psychological threat that in part explains the hyper-emotionality of the anti-science discourse: the frenetic alarmism about a “world government”, the rhetoric of “warmist” or “extremist” levelled at scientists who rely on the peer reviewed literature, the ready invocation of the spectre of “socialism”—they all point to the perception of threat so fundamental that even crazed beliefs can constitute an alluring antidote.
Paradoxically, there is actually good reason to think of socialism in the context of the denial of climate science. It has been a long-standing source of puzzlement among outside observers how the Soviet Union and its satellites could bumble along for so long without reforming their sclerotic economies. Didn’t they notice that the shelves were empty? That Western workers enjoyed a far more comfortable life-style than their Soviet brethren?
No, the Soviet ideologues didn’t notice and they wouldn’t have seen anything even if someone had forced them to look.
Because ideology trumps facts.
And it doesn’t matter what the ideology is, whether socialism, any brand of fundamentalist religion, or free-market extremism. The psychological literature shows quite consistently that a threat to one’s worldview is more than likely met by a dismissal of facts, however strong the evidence. Indeed, the stronger the evidence, the greater the threat—and hence the greater the denial.
In its own bizarre way, then, the rising noise level of climate denial provides further evidence that global warming resulting from human CO2 emissions is indeed a fact, however inconvenient it may be.
Does this mean that free-market economies are incompatible with action on climate change?
Mainstream free-market economies embarked on a path towards reducing emissions long ago, and some of the most vigorous proponents of decarbonisation of their economies are European leaders from the conservative side of politics, such as Britain’s David Cameron or Germany’s Angela Merkel. Likewise, mainstream free-market outlets such as The Economist – hardly a left-wing rag! – have little patience for climate denial but instead focus on moving forward and creating new business opportunities in the clean-energy sector.
None of this was lost on the previous leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, who by all accounts remains firmly entrenched in modernity.
What prevents action on climate change in Australia, thus forestalling the additional three million jobs that CSIRO foresees to arise from a transition to a sustainable society, is not the free-market economy, but the trumping of facts by ideological extremism.
Stephan Lewandowsky is a Winthrop Professor and Australian Professorial Fellow at the University of Western Australia. His research addresses the distinction between skepticism, cynicism, and denial. Find him and his colleagues here.
I am quoting this one in it’s entirety. This author has broken through the barrier of the media whirl and calmly explained the plague of the 21st century. I’m quoting the entire article because I fear it won’t remain online for long, that Rupert or one of his many minions will reach out and attempt to blot out this small spark of truth before it is noticed.