Later On

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

Drivers of denial on climate change

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Wired’s Science section includes some good articles from Ars Technica. Here’s a little cluster of highly informative and quite interesting articles:

Climate Change Acceptance Sinks During Economic Slumps – Worth reading. Here’s the conclusion:

. . . Based on their statistical analysis, the authors conclude the economy is the strongest influence on the public’s acceptance of climate science. This held when the authors analyzed things separately in each US state based on its local unemployment rate. The effect showed up in European countries, as well. In Gallup polls, this correlation holds all the way back to 1989, when the current string of unusually warm years began. Overall, the authors found unemployment had an effect that was over three times stronger than either the local weather or skeptical coverage of climate in the media.

Put in other terms, each time the local unemployment increased by a point, that state saw its average citizen’s probability of accepting climate change drop by over 10 percent.

Similar things were seen in Europe: “A one point increase in national unemployment is associated with a 2.5 point decline in the percentage saying that warming is a serious issue, and almost a one point increase in the percentage of the country saying that warming is exaggerated or saying that it is simultaneously not serious, exaggerated, and not due to CO2 emissions.”

The authors note this is in keeping with past findings, which showed people generally value environmental protection less when unemployment is an issue. They suggest this is an attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance: as people increase their concern for the economy, they drop their support for anything that’s perceived as getting in the way of that. Which might help explain one of the earlier findings, that political figures have an influence on the public’s perception of the climate. In the US at least, there’s no shortage of politicians who have been willing to attack environmental regulations as damaging to the economy.

(Of course, the politicians may also be responsive to the public’s beliefs. As the authors note sardonically, “While the earth’s climate may not react to what people think about the climate, elected politicians often do.”)

Even they are stumped, however, that the public doesn’t only change its views on the importance of a policy response to climate change. Instead, it seems to start questioning reality itself. “What is more puzzling is not that people’s priorities shift with the economic conditions, but that their beliefs about basic climate facts and their trust in climate science also appear to change,” the authors note.

Americans Listening to Politicians, Not Climate Scientists – Complementary with the above article, this one focuses on the influence of politicians. From the article:

. . . While articles in popular science magazines and advocacy efforts (especially An Inconvenient Truth) appeared to have an effect, the impact of news media coverage came about because it is transmitting statements from political leaders, what the researchers refer to as “elite cues.” That’s where the meat of this story lies. Those elite cues were the most significant driver of public opinion, followed by economic factors.

The researchers note that around the time when public acceptance of climate change reached its peak, political bipartisanship on the subject also hit a high point. Republican Senator and (then) presidential candidate John McCain was pushing for climate legislation, and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich filmed a commercial together with an unlikely partner — Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi — urging action.

And then things changed. The economy went pear-shaped and Republican rhetoric shifted into attack mode on climate science. Gingrich’s commercial with Pelosi offers one example — opposing candidates in the presidential race have used its mere existence as a weapon against him, and Gingrich has tried to distance himself, calling it “the dumbest thing I’ve done in the last four years.” . . .

Greed Isn’t Good: Wealth Could Make People Unethical – Wealth, like so many things (Vitamin D, for example, or physical exertion): some is essential, too much is damaging. Insufficient vitamin D leads to rickets, bone loss, and other problems, while too much vitamin D causes kidney failure and can even be fatal. Same with physical exertion—some exercise is essential for good health, but overdoing physical exertion leads to injury and other problems. Food: too little, you starve; too much, you become obese and die. So it seems to be with wealth: the article’s opening sentence: “As an individual’s wealth and status rise, so does their tendency to be unethical, concludes a new study of the relationship between socioeconomics and ethics.”

The problem is that the very wealth/unethical wield enormous power in human society. We’ve structure our society to hand over the most power to the least ethical. This has obvious consequences all over the place, and the decision of wealthy corporations (and political parties) to fight climate change regardless of the truth is but one facet of the whole issue—but it is present in the climate-change arguments.

Ocean Acidification to Hit 300-Million-Year Max – Those who try to stay ignorant of the scientific literature tend of think of global warming/climate change as mainly about heat, but what is causing the temperature rise (and at this point sufficient measurements and observations are available so that there is no doubt—well, no educated, reasonable doubt (some still doubt that the earth is round or that we voyaged to the moon)—that the heat increase is due to the additional increment of CO2 that human activity has added to the atmosphere. (That has been measured: do a search of this blog on “CO2” and you’ll find lots of posts with specific data and good links. Or just click this link and skim down the posts—you will notice that they’re based on evidence, not conspiracy theories (“Scientists gonna get wealthy from this!”).)

But that CO2 is not just going into the atmosphere: it’s also going into the oceans (along with much of the heat: we’ve had a break for a while because the oceans have been absorbing enormous amounts of heat), which means the oceans are becoming noticeably more acidic. This will in time cause a massive die-off of marine life, but that doesn’t seem to bother denialists

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2012 at 9:19 am

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