How did belief in climate change become political?
Have you noticed that generally people who vote Democratic believe in climate change and people who vote Republican don’t? The devastation of super-storm Sandy a few days before the election led me to do my own informal research. I simply asked people whom I knew were very conservative if storms like this made them wonder if the climate is indeed changing.
The first person I asked is a farmer and he said, “No, the weather’s always unpredictable.” Sounds like what a farmer should say, and being the all-around nice guy that I am, I didn’t engage him in a discussion about the difference between weather and the climate. I could have, but I didn’t want to be in his face about it.
Next I asked a pastor. He said, “I’d need to see a lot more data to be convinced there is something special going on.” Again, being the nice guy I am, I didn’t say, “Pull your head out of the sand. There is an enormous amount of data available. Why not take to look at it?”
Finally, I asked an attorney, who said, “No, I don’t believe any of that for a minute.” As I was standing mute (being the nice guy that I am), a woman who teaches science overheard our conversation and challenged the attorney. “You cannot deny it,” she said, as he continued to deny it. “There is climate change happening.” Then she softened the blow by saying, “What is debatable is whether or not this is something man-made or part of the planet’s normal cycles.” Nice guy that I am, I didn’t engage her by saying that history has shown that the climate responds to different influences and this time we are the influence.
As you can see, I don’t like to argue with my friends. I’d much rather take them on anonymously here. (I’ll write another blog someday about the issues raised by this behavior.) And really, the question that fascinates me is not if climate change is happening (which isn’t a question), but why so many conservatives refuse to believe in it.
On the surface one may suspect the answer may lie in the general dislike of Al Gore, but the fact is hardly anyone remembers Al Gore anymore. I have a Gore-less theory. Accepting the evidence that the greenhouse effect warming the planet is caused by the human consumption of fossil fuels leads to government actions conservatives don’t want to be party to. Regulations and taxes will be created to slow fossil fuel consumption — auto companies will be forced to create cars with better gas mileage and gas taxes will be raised to discourage driving gas-powered cars. This is the sort of thing conservatives choke on: the double whammy of higher taxes and government interference in free markets.
If I’ve got this right, it’s the fear of the consequences of belief that causes the political divide. While many conservatives deny the reality of climate change, those in the Northeast who now find themselves riding out the “storm of the century” every year or so, are becoming believers. And a few of us in Michigan enjoying a 62 degree Thanksgiving Day also wondered what was happening. For those looking for non-anecdotal evidence, try this link to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration. This recently-passed October was the fifth warmest on record and the 332nd consecutive month of above-average temperatures. That means that it’s been warmer than average every month since 1985. Neither of my children, who were born in 1987 and 1989, has been alive in a month cooler than normal.
Sadly, the politicization of climate change prevents us from having rational, unemotional conversations about this issue. We don’t seem to have the skills necessary to talk in our fragmented political environment. Both sides are at fault, but the amount of conservative fear since the moment the networks called Ohio to Obama has been especially repulsive. Did you hear about the 200,000 petition signatures collected in Texas to secede from the union following the election? Often these fears are expressed through apocalyptic fantasies that I find difficult to take seriously. (Obama calling out UN troops to invade Lubbock?) At the same time, our children and grandchildren are inheriting a warming planet with apocalyptical seeds already sprouting. We all should be very, very afraid of that.