Thursday, March 14, 2013

Stephen Colbert charts the stages of right-wing climate-change denialism

The best satire can often stick pretty close to reality, and that's true of this recent bit from Colbert.  Basically, to offer my own summary of Colbert's account, the varieties and vicissitudes of right-wing climate-change denialism go more or less like this:
  1. "What global warming?"  (A lot of them are still stuck here at stage #1, of course.)
  2. OK, maybe it's happening, but there's no consensus about it.
  3. OK, there's consensus that it's happening, but we don't really know whether it's caused by human activity and greenhouse gases, by sunspots, or whatever.
  4. OK, it's happening, and it's promoted by human activity, but we don't know whether the effects are harmful, or even significant.
  5. OK, it's happening, it's promoted by human activity, and we're seeing an increase in extreme weather patterns and other serious consequences ... but now it's too late now to do anything about it.  In the words of right-wing pundit Erick Erickson: "It seems like it's a problem we probably have to get used to, as opposed to something we can cure."
Or, as Colbert himself sums it up more concisely:
  1. Denial.
  2. Denial.
  3. Denial.
  4. Denial.
  5. Acceptance.
But no summary can do justice to Colbert's presentation, so just watch it here:

The New Abnormal

Two addenda:

=> At one point Colbert mentions Richard Muller, a Berkeley physicist and one-time climate-change skeptic who very publicly changed his mind on the basis of systematic research he conducted himnself.  In July 2012 Muller went so far as to write  wrote a New York Times op-ed titled "The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic" which begins:
Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
Yes, that's significant. But if we're going to cite Muller, it's only fair to add that, so far, Muller is still not certain just how alarmed we should be about these developments. (That's his next research project, I guess.)

=>  As I've said before:
I know some serous and intelligent people who think it is unfair and even offensive to use the word "denialism" in this context, but I use it advisedly. Yes, I recognize that there are some thoughtful and reasonable forms of skepticism about climate change and its implications, whether or not one finds them convincing. But the perspective on climate change that now dominates the national Republican Party and the right-wing propaganda apparatus, running from talk radio and Fox News through right-wing think-tanks and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, goes way beyond that. (For one good illustrative example of how honest and intellectually serious climate-change skepticism might differ from intellectually irresponsible and crudely demagogic climate-change denialism, I recommend this piece by a skeptical conservative analyst of climate change and its implications, Jim Manzi.)
And monolithic climate-change denialism is just one manifestation of a more general pattern of across-the-board knee-jerk anti-environmentalism that has increasingly become a central defining feature of Republican orthodoxy in US national politics.  Sometimes the truth is unpleasant, but we still have to face it.

—Jeff Weintraub