Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Why the GOP denies climate change

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Very illuminating post at Daily Kos:

The question was asked yesterday why conservatives deny global warming.  To help answer the question, readers were pointed to an interesting piece over at Balloon Juice hypothesizing that the energy industry has blockaded the sunlight of truth, as it were, in a fashion similar to that done by the tobacco industry decades earlier.  In that post, Tim F. correctly noted that science is really non-partisan, and that confronting and averting disaster should be in everyone’s best interests, including that of conservatives:

The only question is why the right wing felt such a compelling need to get behind it this time. Is there something inherently liberal about avoiding catastrophe?

Unfortunately for Tim, for conservatism, and for the world, the answer is, sadly: yes.  In this case, yes there is something inherently damaging to conservatives about avoiding this catastrophe–which is part of why getting involved in politics is so important in this day and age.

There were many alternative explanations also presented for this apparent conservative Liebestod in the comment thread on the post here at dkos: some speculated millennarian religious reasons for failure to care about the future health of the planet, while others postulated that the international cooperation necessary to mitigate the problem was seen as a threat to American sovereignty; still others postulated simple contrarianism against anything promoted by liberals, while yet others hypothesized fear of economic troubles associated with taking action on global warming.  And, of course, there were the standard appeals to simple greed and corruption in catering to energy industry interests.

Yet none of these theories seem to be adequately satisfactory in explaining why Republicans would stand in the way of action on an issue that is so critical to the future of the human race, and likely to be such a huge issue in election after election from this day forward.  Not every Republican leader is a chiliastic nutcase, yet they all deny manmade global warming; it seems unlikely that the same President that tried to give our ports to Dubai and ram an “amnesty bill” down his own party’s throat would stand against global warming for reasons of national sovereignty; the last 7 years should tell any serious observer that the Republicans don’t give a hoot about long-term health of the economy; sheer contrarianism won’t cut it either–just look at the way the GOP backed down on Social Security when they realized they couldn’t win that battle.

And what about greed and corruption?  Well, even oil companies are doing more greenwashing and giving greater lip-service to fighting global warming than is the Republican Party–and the Republican Party is at this point little more than a PR and lobbying arm of that and other industries.  Moreover, they know they’re already losing the PR war on this issue, and there’s no hope of their winning it in the near future, either.

So why keep up the fight?  Why do they do it?

The answer, in my view, is as simple as it is profound: the need to take anthropogenic climate change seriously is a threat to the entire premise of modern conservative thought–specifically regarding the deification of untrammelled free markets.  This is a theory I have outlined before in previous posts.  As I said back in May of this year:

The ideology most under threat from worldwide acceptance of the necessity to act in mitigating global warming is that of “Free-Market” Neoliberalism.  Just as the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped to discredit the concept of neoconservatism everywhere but the lame-duck halls of the White House, the free market’s failure to stop the devastating creep of global warming will, if brought to internationally recognized popular consensus, obliterate the credibility of the prevailing economic conventional wisdom surrounding the Washington Consensus.

This baleful philosophy of neo-liberalism holds as its guiding principle the idea that–if given enough time–corporations in a free-market system unfettered by governmental (i.e., consumer and labor) regulation will provide the greatest variety of products and services at the lowest prices to the greatest number of people.  It also holds that unswerving allegiance to this principle will result in greater worldwide prosperity, increased jobs, and a brighter future for the world’s citizens.

Most arguments against this Friedmanist view of the world are made from an economic standpoint: the unregulated free market has led to ever-wider income inequality, the strangulation of the middle class, massive personal and governmental debt, and a host of other economic problems detrimental to the healthy function of democratic society.  These (and more) are the arguments made, for instance, in Bill Bradley’s excellent book The New American Story.  But the problem with neoliberal ideology is much deeper than these outward symptoms suggest.  The fundamental problem is that free markets left untended by the hand of government tend to be extremely greedy and short-sighted; left unchecked, they can produce an effect not unlike that of the islanders who chopped down every last tree on Easter Island without a thought for the morrow.  As I explained further:

Global warming, however, is a problem that not only points to an utter failure of the neoliberal system, but also cannot be assuaged by appeals to fear or to a continued stay of patience on the part of the world’s increasingly suffering population.

The fact that a problem of such momentous impact has gradually arisen under the watchful eyes of our quarterly-report-obsessed Wall Street bureaucrats with nary the movement of a little finger to stop it is itself proof of the myopic blindness (not to mention selfish greed) that afflicts a purely market-driven system.  It is proof of a failure of long-term thinking and visionary planning in pursuit of higher and higher record corporate profits.

But the fact that global warming is an autocatalytic process–i.e., one whose negative impact will increase, feeding off itself–means that there IS NO MORE TIME.  We cannot wait for the “free market” to eventually provide the bounties that the Thomas Friedmans of the world insist are at the end of the neoliberal rainbow, if only we march long and hard enough in pursuit of the mirage.  The threat is upon us NOW–and if nothing is done to stop it NOW, soon nothing will be able to stop it.

And the corporations in the free market certainly won’t be able to stop it themselves.

It could, in fact, be argued that the entire move toward environmental sustainabiliity is a threat to capitalism itself–as understood by conservatives, at any rate.  A system of all individuals acting solely from momentary self-interest and demanding incessant growth, without the interference of a more far-sighted governmental authority, is anathema to the needs of mankind and of the planet in the 21st century.  This is a theme that was echoed by Paul Krugman as well is in his fantastic piece last month, Gore Derangement Syndrome.  One particular quote sums it up nicely:

But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.

Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

Simply put, conservatives cannot afford for the climate crisis to be taken seriously.  If it is, their ideological goose is cooked.  And much as Republicans are willing to stand on such a precarious footing as opposing healthcare for children, just so that Democrats cannot have the opportunity to prove that government-provided healthcare actually works, so much more so must they stand their ground on opposing action to mitigate climate change.  Their very existence as a viable ideological entity depends on it.  After all, if unbridled greed and self-interest brought us to this pass–and united governmental effort throughout the world helps solve it–what Reaganesque arguments for the evil of “big government” will conservatives credibly be able to ply in the future?

The climate crisis is, in a very real sense, the most significant of many issues from nuclear proliferation to globalized economics that are stretching the credibility of the conservative movement to offer any meaningful solutions.  The politics of radical self-interest have no role to play in solving problems that are global in scale, and horrific in consequence.

Unfortunately for the world, conservatives hell-bent on maintaining what is now a thoroughly outmoded ideology will stop at nothing–even environmental or martial holocaust–to preserve that ideology at all costs.

Which means the deniers won’t be going away anytime soon–whether the energy industry maintains its astroturf lobbies or not.

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2007 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Global warming, GOP

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