For activists on the left frustrated that people say they care about global warming, just not very much, here’s an odd finding. Their opponents on the right tend to have a better grasp of the facts. According to a recent survey, viewers of Fox News are much more likely to know how much the planet is thought to have warmed since Victorian times than ABC, CNN or MSNBC viewers, a surprising number of whom think humans could become extinct within a century and that the planet has warmed by 5 degrees or more since 1890. 61% of Fox viewers in the survey said the Earth had warmed 3°F or less, whereas 63% of CNN viewers said 3 or more (8% even said 10 degrees or more). It reminds us of Susan Sontag’s bombshell complaint back in 1982 that people who read Reader’s Digest understood Communism better than those who read The Nation or The New Statesman. Specifically, “Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?”
Now it’s true that everyone is an anti-Communist now, or at least was between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Xi Jinping. But Sontag was onto a larger point of great relevance to the climate debate. “I have the impression that much of what is said about politics by people on the so-called democratic left… has been governed by the wish not to give comfort to ‘reactionary’ forces. With that consideration in mind, people on the left have willingly or unwillingly told a lot of lies.”
It does not mean that they are perpetrating a hoax or anything of that sort. It means that they are so certain of the truth of their position, and so attached to their tribe, that they become impatient with facts as well as people that stand in their way. Which brings us to the suggestion that, on the list of ways to talk to people about climate, the first entry should be: “Don’t be patronizing”. Don’t assume the people you think need to be converted aren’t better informed than your own allies.
A lesson that activists show no interest in learning. Thus after pronouncing a funeral oration over actual “Straight denial of climate change”, Sam Crawley of “Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington” (who just finished his PhD in Political Science, so we guess he’s a Climate Political Scientist, a case of “So close and yet…”) declares that “People who support free-market economics, hold authoritarian attitudes or have exclusionary attitudes towards minorities are also less likely to engage with climate change.” Not the best way to reach out to the people in question, perhaps.
What’s frustrating him, at least at this specific moment, is that an online survey in the UK, and what better methodology could one ask for, “found 78% of respondents were extremely or fairly certain climate change is happening. But when asked to rank eight issues (climate change, healthcare, education, crime, immigration, economy, terrorism and poverty) from most to least important to the country, 38% ranked climate change as least important, with a further 15% placing it seventh out of eight…. I found similar results in other countries.”
Now one possible reason is that they’re bombarded with propaganda about it, but they don’t see the dramatic changes they’re continually told are turning their pleasant garden into a howling wilderness, so they’re not in a lather to do something. But Crawley has a different view, namely that it’s a plot: “There are other reasons for the slow political response to climate change, besides the low importance of climate change among the public. Vested interests, such as fossil fuel companies, are undoubtedly involved in slowing the adoption of strong climate policies in many countries.” (Yes, it’s that old conspiracy theory… again.) But then his piece fizzles out with “the majority of the public want action on climate change but tend to be more concerned about other issues. Campaigners might find it useful to focus their attention on persuading this section of the population about the urgency of climate action.” Um yeah, it might help. But how?
Well, the big problem is that the more informed people become, the more they realize that the proposed remedies are uncertain and hideously costly and the alleged crisis mostly hype. And if you want to fix that, calling them bigots might not be Plan A. Instead admit to the uncertainties, don’t invent extreme weather, and speak politely to skeptics.
As Eric Worrall put it in commenting on Crawley’s piece “Until activists produce evidence there actually is a climate crisis, I suspect their cause will continue to struggle to hold the attention of ordinary people. Losing your job is a crisis. A positive Covid test and a persistent cough is terrifying. A few degrees of warming feels like Summer.” Then he added As for the “free-market economics” crack, if climate activists stopped pushing command economy communism as the solution to climate change, say if more activists supported a right wing emissions reduction solutions, like removing bureaucratic obstacles to the commissioning new zero carbon nuclear power plants, they might get more engagement from the right.”