I was totally stoked yesterday to see that Paul Krugman responded to my post about global warming denialists. It seems that most of us agree on the basic shape of the motivations for denialists—liberals “believe” in global warming, so it must be wrong!—but Krugman suggests that it’s more a burning rage than smug point-snagging, as I suggested. But honestly, I agree with him on this. The wingnut tent is a big tent; there’s lots of room for various levels of speckle-shooting rage as well as smug fake superiority. Krugman suggests that the twin motivations of misogyny (since environmentalism is a feminized “Mommy Party” issue) and anti-intellectualism drive the resentment that fuels the denialism. I don’t disagree, nor do I disagree that they get really fucking unhinged with anger over this issue, though I’ve encountered my fair share of wingnuts who get smug because they think they’re “winning” by upsetting you with their inability to give a shit about widespread death and destruction.
What I think is the important take-away is that denialists are less motivated by fear of change than I think most good-natured people would like to believe. Nor are they especially motivated by “traditional values”. The great irony is that environmentalism fits the denotative definition of “conservative” more closely than right wing politics. Environmentalists want to conserve nature, and to keep change gradual so that we can spot and control any negative effects. When it comes to traditional values, I’d argue that environmentalism fits traditional values of thrift, responsibility, and stewardship better than this grab-it-all-and-leave-none-for-the-future mentality. Anti-environmentalism truly is a nihilistic philosophy. All this demonstrates why the term “right winger” is a better fit for this particular group of folks than “conservative”.
All over the blogs, I saw commenters arguing that we’re all wrong, because all we need to know about motivations is that a lot of big, powerful industries are too invested in fossil fuels to change, and that fully explains global warming denialism. I don’t think anyone disagrees that you can follow the money and find that a lot of the denialist propaganda goes back to these kinds of financial interests. The fact that Sarah Palin, whose entire career is built on oil rents and certainly not championing science, is being treated like an authority on the subject demonstrates how thoroughly oil interests have corrupted the discourse about global warming. (Seriously, if you step back and think about it for a moment, that really demonstrates how fucked up this whole situations is.) But the question isn’t why the leadership on the right is interested in denying global warming. The question is why do the rabble a) buy into it and b) so enthusiastically? And the answer goes back to these psychodramas about gender, intelligence, and the liberal “elite” that are cultivated on the right.
Finally, the question is, why pay all this attention to motivation? Who cares why they’re wrong, when the main thing is that they’re wrong? The answer is very simple—knowing how the opposition works and what motivates them helps us craft our response. If denialists were intellectually honest people arguing in good faith, then the key would be to sit them down and show them the data. But since the motivation is based in an irrational need to believe that liberals are wrong on this, no matter what, then there’s not much we can do to argue with them. Having a “debate” about this, much like having a “debate” about any scientific fact or theory that wingnuts take issue with, isn’t going to happen. The strategy has to be based around exposing their lies and trying to win over the scientifically illiterate mushy middle.