The discussion that ensued on a recent post on global warming really made me immensely proud to be associated with most of the people who post on this site and their level of information and insight.
I post a lot on global warming, because it’s a massive crisis that affects literally everything. I think I’m speaking to a receptive audience, I want to keep it front and center of the political agenda, and I hope that I can get other people to also put it front-and-center in their political activity.
And so I wonder how worthwhile it is to argue in the comments with those folks who have already made up their minds that they will not believe that global warming is real — no matter the evidence, no matter what’s in front of their faces. They’re in denial; and I don’t really think a blog is an effective place for an “intervention.” Denial is a process of rationalization, not rationality. People’s egos get caught up in their political beliefs — perhaps you’ve noticed! — and to back down or reconsider publicly is just too damn humiliating.They may change their minds eventually, but it won’t be because someone on Blue Mass. Group showed them the silver-bullet fact that made it all make sense. If you’re a denier, by the time you’ve decided to post on this site, you’ve put on your gladiatorial armor and you’re up for a fight. A political warrior will not give an opponent the satisfaction of a victory if he or she can at all avoid it. That’s human nature.
But many, if not most Americans are persuadable. Insofar as going back-and-forth with denialists can force us to sharpen our arguments and gain knowledge and insight, it’s worthwhile. And if one responds to a denier with a mind to convince or inform a disinterested observer, eg. a lurker on the site, that can be quite worthwhile — and less frustrating. Those folks are out there. They know the climate is acting weird. They may not quite know why, or what they can do about it, or what kind of large-scale action is necessary.
I don’t actually believe that most Republican politicians are global warming denialists in their hearts-of-hearts. They may be cowards — as politicians usually are, indeed as they are supposed to be — but they’re not dumb. Scott Brown knows it’s real; Eric Cantor knows it’s real; Orrin Hatch knows it’s real — regardless of what these folks might say publicly. Aside from the truly loony Inhofes and Sensenbrenners, I’ll bet at least 1/2 of the GOP caucus knows it’s real. But they can’t say so. They’re cowed by the conservative political correctness of the moment — or simply riding a Tea Party wave to keep their power. (Or should I say, “position”, since they have no power that’s not given to them by the voters.)
But the political climate can change, as the real climate changes more obviously and radically. Now is the time to persuade the persuadables; and to move those who are already persuaded into action — be it writing letters, meeting neighbors or Congresspeople, working with organizations like 350.org, Citizens Climate Lobby, or myriad others. The persuasion will come as we identify climate preservation as the central work of our political lives.
The climate isn’t going to get better on its own. So we work and work, laying the groundwork and waiting for our moment when the public discussion suddenly turns our way. It’s going to happen, unfortunately because it has to.