Dare to Be Dumb
September 1, 2011
In “Confessions of a Climate Change Convert”, D. R. Tucker explained the change in consciousness that came to a conservative writer after seriously looking at the evidence for anthropogenic climate change.
Today, he offers another insight into the conservative’s climate quandary.
The amusement parks I visited when I was a child had signs indicating that one had to be “this tall” in order to go on a ride. Viewing the endless stream of op-eds and Fox News Channel segments ridiculing the very notion of global warming, I ask myself if we need new signs indicating that one must be “this smart” to understand climate science.
There’s an overlap between media outlets geared to the lowest common intellectual denominator and media outlets that vigorously denounce the scientific verdict on climate change. Long before recognizing the reality of global warming, I was unnerved by the dynamic of right-leaning media outlets embracing tabloid sensationalism, lurid and unsettling content, flashy headlines and graphics. Fox, the New York Post, the boy-we-miss-Bush blogs—all of these entities appealed to emotion, and all of these entities abhorred climate science.
There are only four reasons conservatives reject the scientific verdict on climate—absolute scientific ignorance, support of or support from fossil fuel interests, unrestrained contempt for Al Gore, and rigid ideological opposition to virtually any form of government regulation. Sometimes it’s hard to determine which reason is the biggest factor in climate denial. Yes, the pecuniary pleasures proffered by petroleum promoters have a lot to do with the “It’s all a hoax!” hooey from the right. Yet scientific ignorance might play a bigger role than money when it comes to conservative climate callousness.
Climate science isn’t simple to make simple. It’s hard to explain in a 30-second sound bite how global warming makes hurricanes more dangerous, the role it plays in increasing the intensity of snowstorms, the risk it poses to oceans, to wildlife, to us. It’s tough to make some folks comprehend that human beings can affect the climate by virtue of their activities. The very concept scares people. Science scares people.
I know what it’s like to have a fear of science. I loathed science classes in high school and college, and could not wait for those classes to be over. Chemistry, biology and the natural world were above my pay grade, so to speak. I felt mentally lost in those science classes, thrown for a loop, unable to relate to what was being discussed in any way. I loathed science as much as I loved literature.
It was quite easy for me to buy into Rush Limbaugh’s denigration of science; it was a contempt I already shared. Limbaugh—who often talked of how much he hated school—promoted the idea that scientists didn’t really know what they were talking about, that they were just making up mumbo-jumbo with no relevance to the real world. That’s how I felt. What did my science teachers know, anyway?
Having accepted Limbaugh’s contention that scientists generally didn’t know what they were talking about, I readily bought his argument that climate scientists in particular were clueless. It never even occurred to me that a college dropout like Limbaugh would not be wiser than those who had studied the global climate for years. They studied science; I hated science; Rush hated science too; I agreed with Rush.
One of the things about the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that caused me to reconsider my climate denialism was that it was written in clear language. I didn’t find myself getting lost in the weeds. I wasn’t confused by the terms. One didn’t need years of scientific training to understand what was being presented. The IPCC report made sense in a way that the science textbooks I read in high school and college didn’t.
Looking back, I realize that Limbaugh appealed to my scientific ignorance, my inability to understand the complexities of the natural world. One of Limbaugh’s signature lines was, “Making the complex simple!” Of course, his way of making the complex simple was to declare the complex fictional.
It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that climate deniers in the conservative media and climate deniers who enjoy conservative media have formed the same bond I once formed with Limbaugh. The media pundits who claim global warming is a hoax don’t have a damn clue about science, and they gear their shows, op-eds and blogs to people who are just as scientifically ignorant. I was one of those people. I thank God I’m no longer one.
Climate denial is, if nothing else, a sign of the dumbing down of conservatism in the United States. Just as climate change threatens the physical environment, so too does climate denial threaten the cognitive environment. After all, what happens when one’s intellectual shoreline has been eroded?