Friday, March 30, 2012

Sometimes even Republicans get it

Paul Douglas came to the Minneapolis / St. Paul TV market during some ratings war in the 1980s.  Because weather forecasting can be a serious life-and-death matter around here, the weather forecasts tend to be a LOT longer and more complex than they would be in, say, San Diego.  Back when it was still new and very expensive, several local TV stations bought their own Doppler radar systems and Douglas was brought in to give a new face to this fancy equipment.  He was young, very bright, educated, and empathetic.  He is also a superb weather man and soon he was a ratings sensation.  I'd read he was also something of a minor celebrity on the Jesus circuit but that didn't bother me because he got the weather right.

So now we see Douglas trying to convince his conservative Republican brethren that climate change is real.  Of course, you could see this day coming because at some point, the evidence out the window just crushes ideological objections.  I like to say that climate change is most noticeable the further you get from the oceans, the equator, and sea level.  Minnesota is in the middle of a huge continent and is halfway to the North Pole.  The evidence of climate change around here is so overwhelming, climate change deniers come in but two flavors—morons and drooling morons.  Douglas is neither of these!  The question is, can he convince his comrades over on the right?

A Message From a Republican Meteorologist on Climate Change

Posted: 03/29/2012 10:47 am

Paul Douglas
Meteorologist; Author, 'Restless Skies, the Ultimate Weather Book'

"My climate epiphany wasn't overnight, and it had nothing to do with Al Gore."

I'm going to tell you something that my Republican friends are loath to admit out loud: climate change is real. I'm a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative; a fan of small government, accountability, self-empowerment and sound science. I am not a climate scientist. I'm a Penn State meteorologist, and the weather maps I'm staring at are making me very uncomfortable. No, you're not imagining it: we've clicked into a new and almost foreign weather pattern. To complicate matters I'm in a small, frustrated and endangered minority: a Republican deeply concerned about the environmental sacrifices some are asking us to make to keep our economy powered-up. It's ironic. The root of the word conservative is "conserve". A staunch Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, set aside vast swaths of America for our National Parks System, the envy of the world. Another Republican, Richard Nixon, launched the EPA. Now some in my party believe the EPA and all those silly "global warming alarmists" are going to get in the way of drilling and mining our way to prosperity. Well, we have good reason to be alarmed.

Weather 2.0.: "It's a new atmosphere floating overhead."

These are the Dog Days of March. Ham Weather reports 5,299 records in the last 7 days -- some towns 20 to 35 degrees warmer than average; off-the-scale, freakishly warm. 17,360 records since March 1. Sixteen times more warm records than cold records since March 1. The scope, intensity and duration of this early heat wave are historic and unprecedented. And yes, climate change is probably a contributing factor. "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." 129,404 weather records in one year, nationwide? You can't point to any one weather extreme and say "that's climate change". But a warmer, wetter atmosphere loads the dice, increasing the potential for historic spikes in temperature and more frequent and bizarre weather extremes. You can't prove that any one of Barry Bond's 762 home runs was sparked by (alleged) steroid use. But it did increase his "base state", raising the overall odds of hitting a home run. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, more fuel for floods, while increased evaporation pushes other regions into drought.

Here's what I suspect: the patient is running a slight fever. Symptoms include violent tornado sneezes, severe sniffles of flooding and raging rashes of jaw-dropping warmth. It's 85 in March. What will July bring? It's as if Mother Nature seized the weather remote, clicked America's seasons on fast-forward, turning the volume on extreme weather up to a deafening 10. This isn't even close to being "normal". Weather Underground's Dr. Jeff Masters put it best. "This is not the atmosphere I grew up with."

Some TV meteorologists, professionals skilled at predicting short-term weather, are still in denial. Why? Some don't like being upstaged by climate scientists. We've all been burned by weather models, and some (mistakenly) apply the same suspicion to climate simulations. Others can't or won't take the time to dig into the climate science. "It's all political" one local TV weather-friend told me recently. No, it's science. But we've turned it into a political football, a bizarre litmus test for conservatism. Weather and climate are flip-sides of the same coin; you can't talk about one without understanding the other.  more
I bold-faced the passage in the previous paragraph because it highlights the essential problem of climate change denial.  Scientific fact is different than other things human believe.  Science is the business of uncovering truths that are true no matter what we believe about them.  Most people don't understand this.  It is why some folks think that if you can discredit Al Gore, you can challenge the facts about climate change.  People who believe that are utterly unqualified to enter into scientific discussions.  Unfortunately, that doesn't keep them from trying to distort the debate.

The Science of Truthiness: Why Conservatives Deny Global Warming

03/26/2012 9:28 am

Chris Mooney
Author, 'The Republican War on Science' and 'The Republican Brain'

Note: These are notes for remarks that I gave recently at the Tucson Festival of Books, where I was asked to talk about my new book The Republican Brain on a panel entitled "Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?"

So the question before us on this panel is, "Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?" And I want to focus on one particular aspect of humans that makes them very problematic in a planetary sense -- namely, their brains.

What I've spent the last year or more trying to understand is what it is about our brains that makes facts such odd and threatening things; why we sometimes double down on false beliefs when they're refuted; and maybe, even, why some of us do it more than others.

And of course, the new book homes in on the brains -- really, the psychologies -- of politically conservative homo sapiens in particular. You know, Stephen Colbert once said that "reality has a well-known liberal bias." And essentially what I'm arguing is that, not only is that a funny statement, it's factually true, and perhaps even part of the nature of things.

Colbert also talked about the phenomenon of "truthiness," and as it turns out, we can actually give a scientific explanation of truthiness -- which is what I'm going to sketch in the next ten minutes, with respect to global warming in particular.

I almost called the book The Science of Truthiness -- but The Republican Brain turns out to be a better title.

The Facts About Global Warming

So first off, let's start with the facts about climate change -- facts that you'd think (or you'd hope) any human being ought to accept.

It turns out that the case for human-caused global warming is based on simple and fundamental physics. We've known about the greenhouse effect for over one hundred years. And we've known that carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas, a greenhouse gas. Some of the key experiments on this, by the Irishman John Tyndall, actually occurred in the year 1859, which is the same year that Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

We also know that if we do nothing, seriously bad stuff starts happening. If we melt Greenland and West Antarctica, we're looking at 40 feet of sea level rise. This is, like, bye bye to key parts of Florida.

Enter the Denial

So then, the question is, why do people deny this? And why, might I add, do Republicans in particular deny this so strongly?

And if your answer to that question is, "oh, because they're stupid" -- well, you're wrong. That's what liberals want to think, but it doesn't seem be correct. In fact, it seems to be precisely the opposite -- smarter (or more educated) Republicans turn out to be worse science deniers on this topic.

This is a phenomenon that I like to call the "smart idiot" effect, and I just wrote about it for AlterNet and

Let me tell you how I stumbled upon this effect -- which is really what set the book in motion. I think the key moment came in the year 2008 when I came upon Pew data showing:
  • That if you're a Republican, then the higher your level of education, the less likely you are to accept scientific reality -- which is, that global warming is human caused.
  • If you're a Democrat or Independent, precisely the opposite is the case.
This is actually a consistent finding now across the social science literature on the resistance to climate change. So, for that matter, is the finding that the denial is the worst among conservative white males -- so it has a gender aspect to it -- and among the Tea Party.

So seriously: What's going on here? More education leading to worse denial, but only among Republicans? How can you explain that?

A Three-Level Explanation

Well, I think we need to understand three points in order to understand why conservatives act this way. And I will list them here, before going into them in more detail:
  1. Conservatism is a Defensive Ideology, and Appeals to People Who Want Certainty and Resist Change.
  2. Conservative "Morality" Impels Climate Denial -- and in particular, conservative Individualism.
  3. Fox News is the Key "Feedback Mechanism" -- whereby people already inclined to believe false things get all the license and affirmation they need. more 
And for a little entertainment, a cute little ditty about why the "hippies" were right about so many things.  Unfortunately, hippie "solutions" were never even close to matching hippie critiques of social direction but yes, they were certainly right more often than the banksters.


  1. 1859...that year may do well for marking 'Peak Intellectualism.' By this I'll assert this as the era where an intellectual was most appreciated and regarded, that even political and religious institutions knew they needed to develop intellect, knowledge and understanding, to create and expand concepts like 'the gentleman.'

    But I suppose I'm just being romantic, that each era has their intellects and their deniers, and society's daunting task is to somehow nuture the deniers into becoming reality-based decisionmakers in an endless war against the human nature of easy, lazy, predatory, and stupid.

    Keep up the good fight Tony and Jonathan.

  2. Interesting point! I often use 1899 as the point of peak intellectualism because that's when Veblen's "The Theory of the Leisure Class" was published. I have also argued that 1916 could have been a peak because that was the last year before we got sucked into WW I and doing Britain's imperial dirty work. I can also accept 1969 because of Apollo 11. But I am pretty certain the peak is not now.

    We will try to keep up the good fight—even though it sometimes gets pretty depressing. Thanks for the cheer!