Can You "Fight Back" Against Climate Deniers with the Same Unity and Intensity?

By Chris Mooney | August 17, 2011 11:04 am

William Butler Yeats famously wrote, in “The Second Coming,” that

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Is this a proxy for the climate fight?

Recently, David Roberts proposed that “climate hawks” have to stop coddling conservative white male climate deniers and just “beat” them politically, by rallying the same intensity in the liberal/environmental base.

But as I reply here, this may not actually be possible. It may be a contradiction in terms:

…how do you make liberals into the true and non-oxymoronic “climate hawks” that Roberts wants to see? It’s incredibly hard. Just look at the spats that erupt constantly on the center and left over climate policy, and how everybody is balkanized and in a completely different camp from those who are only half a political degree away from them on a 360 degree spectrum.

Look at the repeated internecine fights we’ve had over the “End of Environmentalism,” over framing, and over whether messaging should focus on talking about clean energy or about the science of climate.

Or, just count how many different environmental groups there are.

Or, just watch the Monty Python bit about the People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean People’s Front.

You get the point, I think.

My full response to Roberts is here.

Comments (10)

  1. TTT

    It’s hard to rally to the same degree of intensity when you have a real job and real responsibility and are up against those with neither.

    Steven Milloy, Marc Morano, and everybody at CEI have never had real jobs, and Monckton hasn’t had a real job in at least 20 years. They have no work product to defend. There will never be any repercussions against them based on the quality, accuracy, or professionalism of anything they say or do. They can lie, gossip, and slander relentlessly and fearlessly, and devote every waking hour to doing so.

    Just by virtue of having to fit our messages within the context of a timeframe of also doing other things that are more important to our employment and career advancement, we lose. Ditto for being constrained by reality, evidence, and managers on what we can say.

    It’s not a reason to give up, but it is a reason to try to convince more of the media to stop pretending there is a legitimate debate going on.

  2. Mike Mangan

    Silly Chris! Have you ever seen anything that suggests the True Believers actually want to change anything? They want no more then to be self-righteous poseurs, haughtily condemning the low brow reproducing and consuming that goes around them each day. Do they strike you as being capable of true introspection? Do they display flexibility in achieving their goal of saving the world? They’re spittle-flecked orcs, incapable of opening their minds, quick to condemn and fume and engage in conspiracy-mongering. You’ll never get a popular movement with this crowd.

  3. Incredulous

    Chris:

    “Recently, David Roberts proposed that “climate hawks” have to stop coddling conservative white male climate deniers and just “beat” them politically, by rallying the same intensity in the liberal/environmental base.”

    I don’t know that I would characterize any of the debate as “coddling conservative white male climate deniers” but I will heartily agree that they have been stunningly ineffectual at getting their message across universally. Recent polls showing lower numbers on the AGW side of the debate and it is probably just the beginning.

    To “just “beat” them politically” should have been the goal from the beginning if they were serious about getting any action in place. To do anything else is just a recipe for failure. If you are not going to play to win, you are just wasting your time. Right or wrong, the only way to get the kind of funding and legislation needed to enact any change is going to be done in the political arena. In recent history, the Democratic party in particular has been making a habit of putting out a less than enthralling front.

    Even in the media, with the preponderance of the outlets, they still don’t garner the size and involvement of the audience of the mouthy right. Of course those of us who don’t really care for either the Republicans or Democrats are not any better at it so no real solution there.

  4. Brian Too

    More on point, I would say: Why is it that extremist positions are not marginalized, merely by their being extreme? Seems to me I remember a time when moderation sounded sane and immoderation sounded, well, immoderate. All a centrist had to do was to point this out. Argument won.

    Has anyone else noted an over-use of the term “extreme”? The word itself is getting de-valued by people using it inappropriately.

  5. bad Jim

    After Yeats wrote those words, we still defeated the Nazis and the Japanese. We went on to build great societies upon the rubble of that conflict. We’re really good at building, and when you get down to it we can be pretty good at fighting, too.

    Since we aren’t authoritarians it’s hard to herd us, and we’d rather make love than war. Look, though, we’ve made progress. Gay marriage is dropping into our laps like an overripe fruit and Ann Coulter is joining GOProud. We’re a world away from the viciously racist and sexist nation I was born in.

    We have lost some of the egalitarianism we used to have, the sense that we’re in this together. The sentiment too frequently heard now is “I upped my income, up yours!” Perhaps the old solidarity was based on a common oppression of a racial underclass and now a casualty of its loss. There’s no good reason we can’t recover from it.

  6. A very important post.
    Look at the times when the population was severely stressed by wars and economics, and you’ll find the extreme answers becoming more and more acceptable to more and more people.

    It is time to fight for what we belie ve in, and save the chatter for later.

  7. bad Jim

    Authoritarians are fearful. We aren’t. That’s our strength.

    Look at Umberto Eco’s “14 Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt”. Number 8 is key:

    When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

  8. Chris Mooney

    #7–
    Not quite. Non-authoritarians, when afraid, get more authoritarian, at least temporarily. There’s much research to support this.

    But Eco’s statement about poor authoritarian evaluation of evidence is very very on point.

  9. Marion Delgado

    Of COURSE you can “just beat” people politically. Once they start attacking scientists en masse, you can say, okay, screw you freaks, we’re after the moderates and you can go eat dirt, plant with the moon, pray instead of vaccinate and/or use medications and surgery, and, for good measure, die. Like your ancestors did. Dying early is one of the most hallowed human traditions, impeccably socially conservative.

    What can’t happen is scientists being like anti-scientists. Reality is not a court case and it’s not haggling at a bazaar and it’s not a contract negotiation. You have to say the temperature is 100 degrees when it’s 100 degrees, regardless of whether a person with an axe to grind is saying it’s 50 degrees. Perhaps you could say “it’s 150 degrees” and hope the average Joe would think the truth is in the middle, but there goes your real advantage – your integrity. If a pollutant kills people at a concentration of 100 ppm and the industry spokesmen say it’s harmless there’d be no point in saying it kills people at a concentration of 1000 ppm and hoping bystanders will slavishly follow the Golden Middle Meme. Even if you say you were mistaken that reflects on your reliability.

    I would also suggest that a really profound attack on the excessive military in the US is in order for Americans. One reason people pushing for funds for science and education (and basic human needs as some sort of floor – which even leaders like Nixon acknowledged) are so apologetic and wimpy is that the sacred cow of the authoritarians – the Holy Troops who are Saving Us From the Endless Enemies Around the World that you are Endangering Us All if you Question – has never been on the chopping block.

    Cut military spending, cut more spending, cut more spending. It’s welfare for things many of us taxpayers on the Blue side of the line don’t believe in and don’t want. It’s more of an imposition on us – due to its many downstream consequences – than a little scientific or educational spending is on conservatives who resent that any conservative pays taxes.

    Politically, until they finally face that THEY’RE the ones pushing the biggest boondoggle – uses the most money, benefits the fewest people – they’ll be aggressive and “we” the more rational part of society will be seen as wimpy.

    The way not to be wimpy is not to be sensationalistic and partisan about science.

  10. Marion D

    typo above re ppms since i switched 100 and 1000 but i hope the point is clear.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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