Two Kinds of “Climate Deniers”
One of the most serious accusations “progressives” make against a person's intelligence and character is labeling someone a “climate denier”. A “denier” is a person who rejects the media's prevailing view on global warming and now, climate change. The tribe of deniers is insecure. It's mainly comprised of “clingers”, those who cling to their bibles and their guns.
Here are the major claims of the believers, it’s the consensus among “right thinking" people: First, the climate is changing and the globe warming, bad news; second, humans are responsible, primarily through emissions of CO2 and other heat trapping gases; third, we have moral responsibility and practical necessity to reduce this production very soon, the Earth is at a tipping point; fourth, concern over climate change should trump other macro considerations.
The consensus of the “believers” is based on; a biased selection of research findings, cowardice of conformity, and a cultural objective of mandating, or at least nudging, a preferred lifestyle. Their failure to convince others—the non-believers, elicits name-calling and vacuous threats. Most are posturing for their tribe.
Here are examples. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose life testifies to regression toward the mean, wants to jail opponents “They ought to be serving time for ... denying climate orthodoxy.... I think it’s treason.” And on climate skeptics: “I wish there were a law you could punish them with. I don’t think there is a law that you can punish those politicians under.”
On June 5, 2009, Joe Romm of Climate Progress defended on his website a warning that climate skeptics would be strangled in bed for rejecting the view that we face a man-made climate crisis. “An entire generation will soon be ready to strangle you and your kind while you sleep in your beds,” warned the Climate Progress message.
Skepticism regarding the need for immediate and massive action against carbon emissions is a sickness of societies and individuals. It needs to be “treated”, according to an Oregon-based professor of sociology and environmental studies. Professor Kari Norgaard compares the “struggle” against climate orthodoxy to holdouts against civil rights in the US South five and more decades ago.
These strong accusations and recommendations, such as “strangle them in bed”, associate non-conformers with defenders of slavery, deniers of tobacco's danger, and even the roundness of the earth. Why such strong reactions?
First, accepting that climate change has serious consequences is a socially and economically enforced fad. It may be correct but still a fad. Of course the climate is changing, it always has. The continental shelves are moving, volcanoes are forming islands such as Hawaii, and ice ages come and go. Change is constant. Second, it takes character to resist conformity--and few have enough to resist. Third, the specter of climate change gives the “more enlightened” a license to impose upon others their vision of proper living, i.e. carbon neutral. These are three powerful influences toward climate conformity.
I see another class of deniers, one seldom identified: These deny incontrovertible economic forces. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger are sensitive to them. They created an organization I greatly admire, The Breakthrough Institute. In early October they published an article in the Scientific American Forum, “The Real Climate Change Debate is about Technology”, (Oct 2, 2014). They focus on economic forces.
Their article challenged this claim: The benefits of a transition to a clean-energy economy will exceed the cost of moving away from fossil fuels. The authors ask, “If clean energy is really such an obvious economic choice, why are China and India still building coal-fired power plants as fast as they can? For that matter, why is Germany?”
Ramona and I are big fans of clean energy. We use wind, solar, and geothermal energy every day. Most obvious are our windmills pumping away at nearly zero operating cost. Our home is super insulated and much of our winter heat is solar. These sources of clean energy are emotionally satisfying and economical. Still, most clean energy remains more costly than fossil fuels. This has a huge implication, major quick shifts toward clean energy require coercion. Further, both solar and wind generation have environmental costs, e.g., to birds. The sources also have large land requirements. Why? The energy they harvest is not dense.
Still, Lord Nicholas Stern (with numerous international luminaries) recently published The New Climate Economy defending the move away from carbon based fuels. They tell us higher levels of spending on climate are justified and may even produce an economic boom. However, they recognize “Developing countries, faced with a choice between energy development for poor populations and mitigating climate risk for future generations, have consistently chosen the former; they are building new, fossil-based energy infrastructure as fast as they can.”
Huge CO2 emitters, China and India, will install clean-energy technologies when they offer a clear economic advantage in the present, not generations hence.
Economic principles explain this strong preference for carbon fuels: Three will suffice. First is the law of demand, it's the social analogue to the law of gravity: Demand curves slope downward and to the right. Everyone understands the application, people demand less as prices rise. Costly energy is less desirable than cheaper sources. The second involves discount rates. Present benefits are more highly valued than those in an uncertain and distant future. Third is the relationship between wealth and tastes for environmental quality. Increased wealth and education foster Green thinking. For those near poverty, environmental quality is a luxury.
These three principles explain much of the climate policies, especially in poor and emerging nations.
People prefer cheap to expensive energy. They discount the value of future benefits. Poverty fosters pollution. (So does irresponsible wealth as displayed as in Al Gore's energy consumption.) Ignoring these economic regularities “represents no less a denial of reality than does pretending that climate change doesn’t exist.”
Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are chairman and president, respectively, of the Breakthrough Institute and co-authors of Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)