Why deny climate change?


The Beaufort Gazette (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY PAUL KRUG­MAN

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is, it goes with­out say­ing, deeply anti-sci­ence. In fact, it is anti-ob­jec­tive re­al­ity. But its con­trol of the gov­ern­ment re­mains lim­ited; it didn’t ex­tend far enough to pre­vent the re­lease of the lat­est Na­tional Climate As­sess­ment, which de­tails cur­rent and ex­pected fu­ture im­pacts of global warm­ing on the United States.

The as­sess­ment ba­si­cally con­firms, with a great deal of ad­di­tional de­tail, what any­one fol­low­ing climate sci­ence al­ready knew: Climate change poses a ma­jor threat to the na­tion, and some of its ad­verse ef­fects are al­ready be­ing felt. For ex­am­ple, the re­port high­lights the growing risks of wild­fire in the South­west; global warm­ing, not fail­ure to rake the leaves, is why wild­fires are get­ting ever big­ger and more dan­ger­ous.

But the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies in Con­gress will, of course, ig­nore this anal­y­sis. Deny­ing climate change, no mat­ter what the ev­i­dence, has be­come a core Repub­li­can princi- ple. And it’s worth try­ing to un­der­stand both how that hap­pened and the sheer de­prav­ity in­volved in be­ing a de­nial­ist at this point.

Wait, isn’t de­prav­ity too strong a term? Aren’t peo­ple al­lowed to dis­agree with con­ven­tional wis­dom, even if that wis­dom is sup­ported by over­whelm­ing sci­en­tific con­sen­sus?

Yes, they are — as long as their ar­gu­ments are made in good faith. But there are al­most no good-faith cli­mat­e­change de­niers. And deny­ing sci­ence for profit, po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage or ego sat­is­fac­tion is not OK; when fail­ure to act on the sci­ence may have ter­ri­ble con­se­quences, de­nial is, as I said, de­praved.

The best re­cent book I’ve read on all this is “The Mad­house Ef­fect” by Michael E. Mann, a lead­ing climate sci­en­tist, with car­toons by Tom Toles. As Mann ex­plains, climate de­nial ac­tu­ally follows in the foot­steps of ear­lier sci­ence de­nial, be­gin­ning with the long cam­paign by tobacco com­pa­nies to con­fuse the pub­lic about the dan­gers of smok­ing.

The shock­ing truth is that by the 1950s, th­ese com­pa­nies knew that smok­ing caused lung can­cer; but they spent large sums prop­ping up the ap­pear­ance that there was a real con­tro­versy about this link.

In many ways, climate de­nial­ism re­sem­bles can­cer de­nial­ism. Busi­nesses with a fi­nan­cial in­ter­est in con­fus­ing the pub­lic — in this case, fos­sil-fuel com­pa­nies — are prime movers. As far as I can tell, ev­ery one of the hand­ful of well­known sci­en­tists who have ex­pressed climate skep­ti­cism has re­ceived large sums of money from th­ese com­pa­nies or from dark money con­duits like DonorsTrust.

But climate de­nial has sunk deeper po­lit­i­cal roots than can­cer de­nial ever did. In prac­tice, you can’t be a mod­ern Repub­li­can in good stand­ing un­less you deny the re­al­ity of global warm­ing, as­sert that it has nat­u­ral causes or in­sist that noth­ing can be done about it with­out de­stroy­ing the econ­omy.

Why would any­one go along with such things? Money is still the main an­swer: Al­most all prominent climate de­niers are on the fos­sil-fuel take. How­ever, ide­ol­ogy is also a fac­tor: If you take en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues se­ri­ously, you are led to the need for gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion of some kind, so rigid free-market ide­o­logues don’t want to be­lieve that en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns are real.

And th­ese mo­tives mat­ter. If im­por­tant play­ers op­posed climate ac­tion out of good-faith dis­agree­ment with the sci­ence, that would be a shame but not a sin, call­ing for bet­ter ef­forts at per­sua­sion. As it is, how­ever, climate de­nial is rooted in greed, op­por­tunism, and ego.

Climate change isn’t just killing peo­ple; it may well kill civ­i­liza­tion. Try­ing to con­fuse the pub­lic about that is evil on a whole dif­fer­ent level. Don’t some of th­ese peo­ple have chil­dren?

And let’s be clear: While Don­ald Trump is a prime ex­am­ple of the de­prav­ity of climate de­nial, this is an is­sue on which his whole party went over to the dark side years ago. Repub­li­cans don’t just have bad ideas; at this point, they are, nec­es­sar­ily, bad peo­ple.

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