A column by Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, that stuck with me.
Points of No Return
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of doctrines — how support for a false dogma can become politically mandatory, and how overwhelming contrary evidence only makes such dogmas stronger and more extreme. For the most part, I’ve been focusing on economic issues, but the same story applies with even greater force to climate.
To see how it works, consider a topic I know well: the recent history of inflation scares. …
Over time … as the promised inflation kept failing to arrive, there should have come a point when the inflationistas conceded their error and moved on.
In fact, however, few did. Instead, they mostly doubled down on their predictions of doom, and some moved on to conspiracy theorizing, claiming that high inflation was already happening, but was being concealed by government officials.
Why the bad behavior? Nobody likes admitting to mistakes, and all of us — even those of us who try not to —sometimes engage in motivated reasoning, selectively citing facts to support our preconceptions. …
Think of it this way: Once upon a time it was possible to take climate change seriously while remaining a Republican in good standing. Today, listening to climate scientists gets you excommunicated …
And truly crazy positions are becoming the norm. A decade ago, only the G.O.P.’s extremist fringe asserted that global warming was a hoax concocted by a vast global conspiracy of scientists (although even then that fringe included some powerful politicians). Today, such conspiracy theorizing is mainstream within the party, and rapidly becoming mandatory; witch hunts against scientists reporting evidence of warming have become standard operating procedure, and skepticism about climate science is turning into hostility toward science in general.
It’s hard to see what could reverse this growing hostility to inconvenient science. As I said, the process of intellectual devolution seems to have reached a point of no return. And that scares me more than the news about that ice sheet.
So, Krugman posits, even ‘Counting on Catastrophe’ isn’t going to be enough to change denialists. My assumption is that, in the face of overwhelming severe and extreme weather, denialism becomes irrelevant. I touched on this back in 2012: Frankenstorms and Gorillas.
For those who care about the science, that’s true. But the denialists don’t really care about the science (and hence the personal attacks on the scientists). Denialism’s job is to convince the public that there is too much doubt to justify action, that the science itself is corrupted, that it’s all a plot to transfer wealth, that it’s part of the political and culture wars.
And it’s worked.
The problem is that extreme weather events and trends (droughts, floods, ice melts ) are consistent with the predictions of climate change and generate unease in the population. The denialist’s job is then to persuade the public to ignore that which, if immediate and local, is increasingly difficult to ignore.
It’s rather like living with a large gorilla. So long as it remains passive, even as it grows, we can live with it. But when it stomps around and upsets the furniture, and looks to be getting ever more angry, then advice to ignore it is futile. The denialists must either make the gorilla go away or acknowledge its presence.
So long as there are extreme weather events, the onus of proof is not on the science; it’s on the denialists. The latter must explain why such events don’t matter (i.e. ignore the gorilla), provide assurance that they won’t get worse (i.e. ignore the gorilla’s behaviour) or accept that we have a gorilla problem.