Hot Air: Tracing the Roots of Global Warming Denial

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If you’re reading this, chances are you’re well-versed in global warming, maybe even “eco-anxious.” But to get inside the heads of those still in denial, there’s a helpful piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books. Since it’s an 8,000-word essay, here are some of the most provocative passages:

“It is strange and striking that climate change activists have not committed any acts of terrorism. After all, terrorism is for the individual by far the modern world’s most effective form of political action, and climate change is an issue about which people feel just as strongly as about, say, animal rights.”

“Unfortunately, the climate debate came along at a time when the Republican Party was wilfully embracing anti-scientific irrationalism. One way of telling this story – adopted by Kim Stanley Robinson in his novel Forty Signs of Rain – begins with the Scientists for Johnson Campaign, run by a group of eminent scientists who were worried about Barry Goldwater’s apparent eagerness to wage nuclear war. Their campaign had a considerable impact, and when Richard Nixon got to the White House four years later he was convinced that scientists were a dangerously anti-Republican political lobby. Nixon shut down the Office of Science and Technology, and kicked the presidential science adviser out of the cabinet – an effective and still unreversed removal of science from the policy-making arena in the US.”

“I suspect we’re reluctant to think about it because we’re worried that if we start we will have no choice but to think about nothing else.”

He quotes James Lovelock: “I am old enough to notice a marked similarity between attitudes over sixty years ago towards the threat of war and those now towards the threat of global heating. Most of us think that something unpleasant may soon happen, but we are as confused as we were in 1938 over what form it will take and what to do about it. Our response so far is just like that before the Second World War, an attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement was uncannily like that of Munich, with politicians out to show that they do respond but in reality playing for time.”

He very briefly touches on the energy-industry’s war on science: “The techniques in play were learned by the tobacco lobby in the course of the fights over smoking and health.”

For Mother Jones coverage of global warming denial, read here, here, here, and here.

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