D.R.Tucker: Dawn of the Deniers
October 3, 2011
One of an endangered, but not vanished, breed of conservatives who still believe in, like, gravity and stuff, D. R. Tucker contributes another perspective piece from a Republican “warmist”.
Recently, a friend asked me if I still had any respect for the conservative op-ed columnists and talk-radio hosts I once admired, since so many of those pundits remain committed to the view that anthropogenic global warming is something Al Gore and Carol Browner cooked up to destroy free-market capitalism. “Let’s just say it’s getting a little harder to respect them,” I responded.
I’ve reluctantly concluded that the conservative pundits who repeatedly and forcefully deny the accuracy of climate science will never change their views; on their deathbeds, they will mutter profanities about Ed Begley Jr. and Solyndra seconds before checking out. These pundits aren’t all elderly, but they are all mentally old and set in their ways.
To ask veteran conservative pundits to recognize scientific reality is to ask them to surrender a bit of their identity. That’s not going to happen anytime soon: you’ll have to pry their denial out of their cold, dead hands.
Conservatism is a force that gives its adherents meaning. Just as there is a “black community,” a “Jewish community” and an “LGBT community,” so too is there a “conservative community” in the US, unified by a vision that defines the federal government’s only proper role as the protection of the country from foreign and domestic attacks.
I no longer believe there can be common ground between conservatives and environmentalists. Modern conservatism holds that environmentalists are demonic forces, radical anti-capitalists who wish to swell government in order to run, and ruin, people’s lives. Republican environmentalists in particular are held in deep contempt: scroll through the comment sections of posts on Hot Air or Free Republic about Jon Huntsman and you will see the former Utah governor attacked with language one wouldn’t even use to describe sex offenders.
The modern conservative movement cannot countenance climate science or environmentalism. Accepting the idea that human activities can harm the planet means accepting certain governmental regulations to protect the planet from such harm. If one’s ideology holds that all governmental regulations are by definition repugnant, one cannot accept the science that justifies those regulations. (It’s interesting to note that according to a recent Public Opinion Strategies poll, 55 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Fox News viewers actually support government efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite the vehemence with which Republican politicians and Fox News talking heads attack the very idea of anthropogenic global warming. Public Opinion Strategies notes that “a majority across the political spectrum support EPA requiring these reductions even when the goal of the action is specifically stated in terms of reducing global warming pollution.” Presumably these right-leaning respondents do not consider themselves hardcore conservatives, because the results would be far different if they were.)
Climate science and environmentalism go against the modern conservative vision of the way things ought to be (not for nothing did climate-denier Rush Limbaugh use that phrase as the title of his 1992 bestseller). It’s an extraordinary struggle to accept ideas that conflict with the way one feels society should be ordered, a struggle that many conservative pundits are seemingly unwilling to endure.
I used to think that epistemic closure was the American left’s trademark. For years, I was convinced that it was progressives who had a stock set of ideas they never deviated from, a template that had to be followed at all costs. My conflicts with progressives only served to reinforce this view.
However, I realize now that I was also wrong on this point. When it comes to epistemic closure, American progressives are rank amateurs compared to American conservatives. The negativity I received from the right for accepting climate science was unlike anything I have ever experienced—but I’m actually glad to have experienced it, since it forced me to confront some inconvenient political truths.
Looking back, my disputes with the left gave me the fortitude I needed to deal with the right’s aggressively enforced epistemic closure. The progressives who gave me grief for supporting President Clinton’s impeachment and John McCain’s White House bid gave me the best training possible to deal with a far more pernicious, and far more pervasive, form of ideological intolerance.
Being branded a “RINO” and a “warmist” by the close-minded conservative class was the wake-up call I needed. In a weird way, I want to thank the conservatives who condemned my conversion on climate change. They helped me realize that a “warmist” is merely someone who accepts scientific reality instead of denying it—and that a “RINO” is another word for a Republican with an IQ above room temperature.