Why do conservatives reject the scientific consensus on climate change? Partly it’s prospect theory and motivated reasoning. And partly it’s because they don’t want to admit a glaring failure of free market fundamentalism. (More)
The right wing have been in all-out FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt) Mode on climate change this week, with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that climate scientists quickly debunked. But no matter, because dozens of conservatives like Charles Krauthammer were happy to provide an echo chamber …
… and all based on the same FUD tactic: “Well, it’s possible the consensus is wrong.” That exemplifies Daniel Kahnemann’s Prospect Theory:
In the upper right corner we have a very likely vs. certain loss: we hope to avoid the loss, accept risk, and often reject a favorable payoff or commit too few resources because “it might not happen” (e.g.: climate change).
This is a classic example of motivated reasoning, which raises the question: What is the conservative motivation for denying climate change?
The Guardian’s Seumas Milne offers an intriguing explanation:
But climate change denial is also about ideology. Many deniers have come to the conclusion that climate change is some kind of leftwing conspiracy – because the scale of the international public intervention necessary to cut carbon emissions in the time demanded by the science simply cannot be accommodated within the market-first, private enterprise framework they revere. As Joseph Bast, the president of the conservative US Heartland Institute told the writer and campaigner Naomi Klein: for the left, climate change is “the perfect thing”, a justification for doing everything it “wanted to do anyway”.
When it comes to the incompatibility of effective action of averting climate disaster with their own neoliberal ideology, the deniers are absolutely right. In the words of Nicholas Stern’s 2006 report, climate change is “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen”.
The intervention, regulation, taxation, social ownership, redistribution and global co-operation needed to slash carbon emissions and build a sustainable economy for the future is clearly incompatible with a broken economic model based on untrammelled self-interest and the corporate free-for-all that created the crisis in the first place. Given the scale of the threat, the choice for the rest of us could not be more obvious.
Simply: if climate change science is true, then we can’t trust markets to identify and solve some truly vital problems … and that conclusion is anathema to free market fundamentalists.
Reader Comments welcome.