Climate Of Hate: The Politics Of Climate Change Denial

As HateWatch notes, according to posters at the white supremicist site StormFront the “global warming scam” is a jewish plot . That’s right, it’s all part of the vast Zionist conspiracy. They even identify a number of prominent climate scientists and policy shapers as Jews (what more evidence do you need?). Small wonder then that the racist British National Party has made exposing “the scam” one of it’s central platforms.

Two points I’d like to make about this: i) it underscores the reality that climate change is a progressive issue on a par with any other, and not, as some progressives tend to see it, as some sort of middle class environmental concern separate from ‘real issues’, and ii) climate change is a political struggle just like any other, and not, as some environmentalists tend to see it, a matter purely about education and information.

On the one hand it is no real surprise nor something particularly unique. The whole tea-bagger revolution is a reaction of a predominantly less educated group who is afraid and insecure. They see their prospects declining and they don’t know what to do about it. Their fear and anger manifests as lashing out against every disenfranchised group there is, from women to gays to people of colour. What the issue or facts are is irrelevant.

Climate change is a perfect issue for this “culture war” in that it is coming from the educated class (read “elite”) and is too complex for Joe the Plumber to grasp in a 20 sec sound bite. It involves many of the bogey men that the reactionaries fear, from taxes to regulation to increased government infrastructure.

Further, the first and worst victims of climate change will be the disenfranchised, while the privileged class has the most to lose in the short term. Best of all, it can all be explained and dismissed as a Progressive conspiracy to seize power and create a monolithic World Government.; the ideal recipe for a radical right reaction.

Unfortunately environmentalists and scientists have been approaching the climate change issue as though it were simply a matter of insufficient knowledge on the part of the general public; what Naomi Oreskes refers to as the “information deficit model.” Since the problem is understood as there not being sufficient information, the ‘solution’ is obviously to provide more information. Polls tell us this is not working, as Oreskes discusses in these videos:

Beyond Belief 2008 -09

Beyond Belief 1

Beyond Belief 2

As Oreskes notes, 29% of the general public deny that global warming is even happening at all, and she suggests that it is the same 29% who believe Saddam Hussien attacked the US on 9/11. She is probably right. To a certain extent the Islamophobes are also climate change Deniers, and share most of the rest of the right wing agenda as well.

It is not so much that education is the wrong approach as that it is insufficient. We do need to be doing the public education, but we need to be doing other things as well. The struggle is a political one and we forget that at our peril. As everyone should know, the Deniers respond to the debunking of one ludicrous fable simply by invoking another one. Once someone has embraced mindless delusion they tend to do so wholeheartedly.

The issue is partially that of knowledge, and certainly some proportion of those who are unclear as to what the truth is are open to rational discussion of the facts. However, the main things driving the reactionary right, at least at a populist level, is fear and helplessness.

In the same “through the looking glass” reversal as I described in “Orwell 2.0“, Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear” (a climate Denier “must read”) portrays an Orwellian world where skeptical scientists are intimidated and their research suppressed. Here again the fact is that while it is true that fear is a principle tool in climate politics, it is the Deniers who are using it to rally those who are fearful.

People will not be open to being educated about climate issues while they are frightened. The work we do needs to recognize that and include facts that address people’s fears. Education about economic opportunities in the clean energy sector is a good example of something that addresses people’s sense of economic insecurity. Although we hardly needed more work, the fact is that we have to be aware of and address people’s real motivations rather than what we think their motives should be.

If right wing reaction has spilled over into climate issues, the obverse will also be true. As the climate crisis deepens we will get more and more people who are frightened, insecure and feel helpless. A healthy proportion of them will take refuge in the hate mongers camp where they will necessarily embrace the full spectrum of Regressive politics.

As I discussed in ‘The Many are One”  we are all dealing with different manifestations of the same issue and our work needs to reflect that at all levels. Recently a dear friend who is also a radical gay activist made a climate change joke, and as gently as possible I called him on it. His reaction was to tell me to “lighten up.” My response was to ask what if I had made a gay bashing joke which he would quite rightly have called me on, and I had replied “lighten up.” Feels different, doesn’t it?

But if the broader Progressive community needs to take climate more seriously, the environmental movement needs to integrate the full range of progressive issues far more than it has. Far too many environmental groups still seem more like nature appreciation societies rather than progressive political activists. It is incoherent to talk about the grand inter-connectedness of nature while ignoring the social, political and economic inter-connectedness of our issues.

From sealing to forest issues environmentalists have repeatedly found themselves at odds with what should be our natural allies, such as First Nations and labour. Unless we change our approach these conflicts are simply going to become more common and intractable. In proposing ‘solutions’ we have to recognize the concerns and aspirations of the various affected communities and address them in a serious way. We also need to educate our own communities about the political and social aspects of our issues, not merely the scientific ones.

No progressive issue is going to fare well in a climate of hate and fear; to succeed we must create a climate of acceptance and hope. Each sector of the progressive community brings experience and resources to the struggle. We can share those and use them to our common benefit by acting as one resistance community, or we can continue to harbour the delusion that our own particular issue is somehow special and unique relative to the rest. That’s something we decide, not them.

Lightening up:StormFront is for Dummies” from JudeophobeWatch


3 Responses to Climate Of Hate: The Politics Of Climate Change Denial

  1. Meme Mine April 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Hey! If Tigers Woods can come back, so can global warming

  2. Meme Mine April 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    The new emerging and inevitable mainstream environmental movement is coming soon. New Greens are getting ahead of the curve so please read on and give it a fair consideration. The New Green is built on preserving, protecting and respecting Nature and facing the future of energy and over population with a courageous resolve, in a progressive and civilized society. Something is wrong with us as environmentalists when we are so easily willing to tell our children the planet is dying for them and their kids. We seem to wish and pray for this misery and we should be embarrassed about the fact that we bow to a fat politician promising to lower the seas with taxes. And worst of all, we should all admit that we are using term “science” as “morality”. If anything, none of us can deny the fact that public support for CO2 taxes and sacrifice will not be approved. The reality is that consensus counts ultimately at the voting booths and if none of you can admit right now that public voting support is gone, you are the new denier.
    Climate Change as a movement is itself unsustainable and if we persist with this losing battle, it will do to environmentalism what Bush did to the neocons. This is our Iraq, our WMD Scam and our CO2 mistake.
    So as a way out gracefully, I suggest we admit that climate science and climate change from humans while not pollution defined, are in need of much more research and study. Fellow humans all want the same thing and turning love for the planet into a constant war against other fellow humans is not good for anybody. Lets work on environmental issues with real and workable tools and face the future of progress with optimism instead of fearing the unknown. We can do better to get everyone on board without the battles. It’s called peaceful compromise.

  3. Martha April 13, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Meme Mine does not accept that climate change is real, happening, and serious but still likes the idea of everyone working together. It’s not clear how that will work out.

    I agree that it is about political struggle, and good political analysis matters because it is the basis for fighting back.

    At the personal level, many people are starting to take control by reducing their individual carbon footprint. What if a lot more people accepted climate change, and made the personal sacrifices necessary? It’s important, but not all.

    The crisis requires policy action. It is clear that environmentalists somehow failed to position themselves on the cutting edge of social and political change, here in North America. On the other hand, the EU has moved forward with commitments to reduce C02 emissions, develop and transfer technologies, and support adaptation — despite the absence of an international governing body to lead the response to climate change (thanks to the failure at Copenhagen).

    I think it is unlikely that the average denier is fearful or insecure (beyond the usual). It makes more sense to see deniers as being like most members of society in the sense that they are exploited by the system.

    The reason deniers of climate change often seem reactionary is likely because they are. They have what amounts to a pretty simple analysis of the state and this prevents them from seeing the way forward. They think the same system that they feel ‘robs’ them (to give to the poor, although they miss the part where the system puts even more money back into the pockets of the rich) will rob them further if they accept the facts of climate change. They mistake what the system does to them and to others to ensure the highest profits for the smallest group, with what is needed to help fellow citizens and themselves.

    Moreover, the reason deniers of climate change often express concern that climate change is a hoax made up to advance one-world government is likely because they actually have the (correct) intuition that climate change is a by-product of a particular economic system. However, they don’t take the insight forward into fuller analysis of the system that is led by folks who put profit ahead of everything else – including their lives, the lives of future generations, and the lives of many more they will never know.

    I take your point about culture wars, but ‘ Joe Plumber’ is not the problem and not a stereotype from which we should map anything.

    In solidarity

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