Liability of scientific denialism to political conservativism

I have often thought that political conservatives who promote climate change denial are cutting off their nose to spite their face. Sure, I can understand why conservatives may be opposed to collective action required to deal with the problem of global warming. Or at least some of the political and economic measures that have been discussed. But if they are serious about their political and ideological stance, and their desire to promote it, they should be in there debating the adaption and mitigation procedures that have been advanced. Or advancing some of their own.

Instead, they choose to leave themselves “outside the tent pissing in,” when they avoid the political process taking place and instead claim there is no need.

Political suicide

It’s a suicidal strategy because, after all, one can’t change reality by denying it. And when you get yourself into the position of attacking and denying the best science, and the best consensus on the dangers of global warming, you are denying reality.

Sensible politicians accept reality, even if it is unpleasant, and work to alleviate the problem by advancing and discussing policy measures. Not sticking their head in the sand.

I suspect many political conservatives are starting to wake up to this problem.They are starting to question the wisdom of deniers like Christopher Monckton who is currently carrying out a personal unwinnable vendetta against Professor John Abraham (see Support John Abraham against Monckton’s bullying). The “climategate” scandal has been exposed as a hoax and no longer has much use as a political mobiliser. And some conservative commentators are starting to publicly question the wisdom of the climate denial strategy.

A worry to conservatives

An example is Jonathan Kay’s recent column in the Canadian National Post (see Bad science: Global-warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause).

Kay points out that the denial movement has reinvented a “2-3% sliver of fringe opinion ,. . as a perpetually ‘growing’ share of the scientific community.” And:

Most climate-change deniers (or “skeptics,” or whatever term one prefers) tend to inhabit militantly right-wing blogs and other Internet echo chambers populated entirely by other deniers. In these electronic enclaves — where a smattering of citations to legitimate scientific authorities typically is larded up with heaps of add-on commentary from pundits, economists and YouTube jesters who haven’t any formal training in climate sciences — it becomes easy to swallow the fallacy that the whole world, including the respected scientific community, is jumping on the denier bandwagon.

“This is a phenomenon that should worry not only environmentalists, but also conservatives themselves: The conviction that global warming is some sort of giant intellectual fraud now has become a leading bullet point within mainstream North American conservatism; and so has come to bathe the whole movement in its increasingly crankish, conspiratorial glow.”

He laments that conservatives seem to have  lost “their hard-headed approach to public policy” when it comes to climate change. Instead:
“many conservatives I know will assign credibility to any stray piece of junk science that lands in their inbox … so long as it happens to support their own desired conclusion. (One conservative columnist I know formed her skeptical views on global warming based on testimonials she heard from novelist Michael Crichton.) The result is farcical: Impressionable conservatives who lack the numeracy skills to perform long division or balance their checkbooks feel entitled to spew elaborate proofs purporting to demonstrate how global warming is in fact caused by sunspots or flatulent farm animals.”

Making conservatives irrelevant

He warns that this unthinking approach is making conservatives irrelevant in one of the most important debates of our times;
“The appropriate intellectual response to that challenge — finding a way to balance human consumption with responsible environmental stewardship — is complicated and difficult. It will require developing new technologies, balancing carbon-abatement programs against other (more cost-effective) life-saving projects such as disease-prevention, and — yes — possibly increasing the economic cost of carbon-fuel usage through some form of direct or indirect taxation. It is one of the most important debates of our time. Yet many conservatives have made themselves irrelevant in it by simply cupping their hands over their ears and screaming out imprecations against Al Gore.”

I wish our local political conservatives, the ACT Party, the Centre for Political Research and some very vocal bloggers would listen to this advice. Stop trying to deny reality by attacking the science and scientists. You can’t change reality. But you can influence the political debate and decisions.

But to do that you have to be relevant.

Thanks to Deep Climate


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6 responses to “Liability of scientific denialism to political conservativism

  1. The National Post is Canadian, which is presumably why it doesn’t get as much attention as, say, the Wall Street Journal.

    But I would say the Post has played a key role in climate science denial over the years, both in Canada and abroad (that’s what makes Kay’s article all the more surpring).

    Harris’s latest project is the Climate Science Register (with names recycled from previous efforts for the most part):

    NZ endorsees contain some familiar names:

    Ex-APCO and anti-science PR operative Tom Harris go back a long way.

    And, yes, this does relate to New Zealand:

    Alan Gibbs, Tom Harris, ACT Party and NZ CSC connections:

    Origins of NZ CSC coincide with the Tom Harris/National Post skeptic letter to the UN at Baili 2007 UN climate conference:

    By the way, the NZCPR’s Muriel Newman was a signatory of the Harris’s 2008 Manhattan Declaration. Harris certainly leaves no stone unturned.


  2. Woops, I am a bit distracted at the moment but this doesn’t excuse my reverse myopia of assuming the National Post was US.

    I have corrected that and also acknowledge Deep Climate as my original source for this story.

    Yes, a pity someone can’t hack the email communications between all these people.


  3. Richard Christie

    Kay’s article sure hasn’t been a hit with National Post readers if the approval scores given to the comments following it are anything to judge by.
    It’s quite chilling to note how much relative approval is given to some of the most scientifically vacuous comments.


  4. The problem is they’re not just scientifically vacuous, they’re ideologically incoherent.

    I wonder how many people who say they want to advance and protect commercial and industrial interests have any friends in the commercial activity known as insurance. Companies around the world are raising premiums or denying coverage because of already evident increasing risks from extreme weather.

    If they don’t believe “ivory tower” scientists perhaps they’ll believe hard-headed actuaries. I’m not holding my breath.


  5. Your commentary is right on. I’m a politically conservative Earth scientist who recently stirred up some trouble in Utah by publicly insisting that our legislators should make arguments about climate change that are factually correct and logically coherent. I also outed Lord Monckton as a liar and was threatened by him in the same manner he is now threatening John Abraham.

    There’s just too much evidence that human-induced climate change is likely to be a big problem. I give the Republican party 20 years before it implodes over this if we don’t wise up.


  6. Pingback: It’s politics, not science « Open Parachute

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