7 july 2017

[4C Note: The article below is more than 5000 words long. To satisfy the terms of Guardian article reuse, we have only posted the first four paragraphs, with a "Read more" click-on at the end.
Runciman's piece, however has a major flaw in its explanatory framework. The author sees a shift from clmate skepticism to cynicism about the motives of environmentalists (they're a front for big - or world - government), which he explains in the conclusion by social psychology: "We live in an age when mistrust of politics has spilled over into mistrust of expertise, and vice versa."
But if you scratch at the alt-right cynicism about climate "fear-mongering", what you find is the neoliberal economists' "public choice" theory of regulation. (My thanks to Marleen Wessel for this insight.) Essentially, they say, government regulation of anything is a reflection of somebody's (an office holder's or others benefitting from public money, like Greenpeace) economic self interest. Therefore zero or very little regulation. Let the market handle all problems. All those who claim otherwise (like Al Gore and the leaders of environmental ngos and Green parties) are hypocrites, out to get tax dollars. This is the firm belief of most economists and hundreds, if not thousands, of millionaire Republicans using their public offices for personal enrichment.
In other words, the mistrust Runciman sees is ideologically inspired by those who themselves live for personal profit and are so incapable of imagining any other motive that they assume everyone is like themselves.
This ideology may be characteristically American in its most popular form: while many European economists and ministers have bought into it too, common sense and the prevailing opposition to the far Right in most member states of the European Union have limited its scope, as evidenced by the G-20's near-universal condemnation of Trump's alt-right withdrawal from the Paris accord [see]. Climate activists need to confront this ideological framework for the cynicism about their motives directly. Asking climate scientists to be less sure of their conclusions, as Runciman suggests, will not help.

How climate scepticism turned into something more dangerous

Doubts about the science are being replaced by doubts about the motives of scientists and their political supporters. Once this kind of cynicism takes hold, is there any hope for the truth?

By David Runciman, The Guardian, Friday 7 July 2017

Last month Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. For his supporters, it provided evidence, at last, that the president is a man of his word. He may not have kept many campaign promises, but he kept this one. For his numerous critics it is just another sign of how little Trump cares about evidence of any kind. His decision to junk the Paris accord confirms Trump as the poster politician for the “post-truth” age.

But this is not just about Trump. The motley array of candidates who ran for the Republican presidential nomination was divided on many things, but not on climate change. None of them was willing to take the issue seriously. In a bitterly contentious election, it was a rare instance of unanimity. The consensus that climate is a non-subject was shared by all the candidates who appeared in the first major Republican debate in August 2015 – Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Trump. Republican voters were offered 10 shades of denialism.

As Huckabee quipped in January 2015, any talk of global warming was a distraction from the real dangers the country faced: “A beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn.” Trump’s remarks on climate may have more been erratic (“I want to use hairspray!” he said at one point, confusing global warming with the hole in the ozone layer) but their consistent theme was that manmade climate change is a “hoax”, perpetrated by the enemies of the US, who may or may not include China.

Climate science has become a red rag to the political right. The scientific consensus is clear: more than 95% of climate researchers agree that human activity is causing global warming, and that without action to combat it we are on a path to dangerous temperature rises from pre-industrial levels. But the mere existence of this consensus gets taken by its political opponents as a priori evidence of a stitch-up. Why else would scientists and left-leaning politicians be agreeing with each other all the time if they weren’t scratching each others’ backs? Knowledge is easily turned into “elite” knowledge, which is tantamount to privileged snobs telling ordinary people what to think. Trump’s stance reflects the mutual intolerance that now exists between those promoting the scientific consensus and those for whom the consensus is just another political racket. Trump didn’t create this division. He is simply exploiting it


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