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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 
Climate change denialism is a tribal marker for old white Republican males

by David Atkins

Gallup is out with a new poll on climate change. It turns out that while climate denialism spiked in 2010, acceptance of climate science has increased such that only 1 in 4 Americans are climate deniers today.

That's still far too high a number, of course, but more interesting is the demographic skew of the denialist rump:



These are fairly astonishing numbers. There is no particular reason for this to be an issue so radically divided by age and gender. While Gallup doesn't touch on race here, we know from other polling that climate denialism also skews heavily white. In a surprising break with some other polling on the issue, even education level seems to make little difference in the Gallup study.

The only compelling motivator for public opinion on climate science is partisanship. Simply put, the Republican Party has multiple compelling interests in denying the reality of climate change. If climate change is real, it's almost certainly a problem that requires preventative global governmental intervention rather than post facto free market corrections. Acting on climate change would also directly impact the bottom lines of traditionally Republican fossil fuel economy donors. They stand to lose a lot of money.

The Republican base is made up mostly of older white men. The big money donors and their conspiracy theorist mouthpieces on talk radio and Fox News have spent countless hours and billions of dollars convincing the Republican base that climate change isn't real, much in the same cynical way that they've persuaded their base that giving more money to billionaires will create jobs. So older white men tend to disbelieve in climate change. If Fox News and Rush Limbaugh started telling them that the sun revolved around the earth, their base would start believing that, too.

It also appears that the number of people in both the acceptance and denialist camps is increasing, and the number of people in the middle is decreasing. That's another sign of the power of partisanship in this debate:



But, of course, not all partisanship is created equal, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. If one side of the country passionately believes that 2+2=4 and the other side just as passionately believes that 2+2=5, then the problem isn't that the country is bitterly divided. The problem is that there is a corruption in the system that allows so many people to be deluded into believing patently and obviously wrong things. Nor would a reasonable person be inclined to fault the passions of those who accept the science of arithmetic, or question the legitimacy of their political intensity.

We know that climate change is real and manmade. This is not a subject for serious dispute among knowledgeable people. The only reason it has become such a contentious issue is that the Republican Party and its media machinery have chosen to betray the trust of their loyal demographic constituencies for raw financial and ideological gain. They have turned the world's most pressing and consequential problem into just another tribal marker in the endless partisan war.

That goes beyond petty politics and the perpetual fight over resource allocation. That comes perilously close to a crime against humanity.


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