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[personal profile] eyelessgame
I started as an advocate for science more than thirty years ago - as a college student I fought in the Usenet talk.origins trenches, spending endless mostly-unproductive hours arguing with (primarily Christian; there are other sorts of) creationists. Few people (you will not be surprised to hear) changed their minds, but I learned a great deal that's become applicable to other scientific advocacy.

In particular, the same tactics and same classes of denial the creationists used and still use are being employed by the deniers of climate change. Again, that's not a surprise - but I want to share one interesting specific parallelism, and a hypothesis that I'd like to see tested somehow (someone who's an expert at polling or interviewing) regarding the furious insistence on climate change denial coming from conservatives. But a bit of description of the similar parallel argument from creationists first.

It has been clear to me after arguing with creationists for years that their fundamental worldview was at risk from acceptance of cosmology and evolution: they could not leave aside a literal Adam and his literal creation by God. The discomfort of being related to animals aside, the timeline problems aside, the problem for them was original sin. If Adam did not exist, if Eden did not exist, if the Fall did not happen, they explained to me, then the sacrifice of Christ was meaningless, and their entire worldview would collapse.

I would sometimes gently try to explain there were many devout Christians who accepted evolution and cosmology, and I tried to explain their theological positions as I understood them - but to these creation-believers it was a foreign religion; a "salad bar" that discarded the "inconvenient" parts of the Bible; they could not bring themselves to any different worldview.

So those who were exposed to the overwhelming evidence for evolution, but unable to accept it, were fully convinced that a grand conspiracy of scientists around the world was faking evidence and presenting false conclusions specifically to destroy Christianity.

So what does this have to do with climate change denial? I have a hypothesis.

What does it mean to be a firm believer in free markets, microeconomic laissez-faire, Adam Smith, and the power of capitalism to make humans better? (I will note that I'm a moderate liberal, thus a supporter of markets and of regulated capitalism leavened with some social support, and it's my view there is strong evidence for at least a "weak" version of this belief - the iterative, evolutionary nature of market capitalism does solve lots of problems, microec has some validity, capitalism has been responsible for some significant advances. But a debate on economics is not really the point of this essay, any more than a debate on religion. It's really about a specific logical train.)

My sense is that it is the belief of a strongly laissez-faire capitalist that markets always solve problems better than government. The justification for this statement is based on the premise that markets efficiently move to find solutions that are ultimately better than any one person could plan, because the constant competition and winnowing of potential solutions in the market, through consumer choice, drives innovation and efficiency. Econ 101 market rules. And a lot of people fully accept this and consider it gospel truth.

Now I think the "always" is at best highly questionable, but there's no doubt this is the belief of many people.

How does this lead to a disbelief in climate change? I think it actually has to follow from that premise. Let us put ourselves in the mindset, for a moment, that accepts that government regulation never solves a problem "better" than the market does.

Now, the person with that mindset does also observe the world: specifically, that there are many scientists and supporters claiming that the climate is changing - and that this is a problem requiring a massive response to save the planet.

So, the conservative reasons, one of four things must be true:

- There is no solution to this problem; the planet is doomed.
- The market is solving, or will solve, this problem on its own.
- The market will not solve the problem on its own; regulation and collective action will be required.
- There is no actual problem; a grand conspiracy to destroy economic freedom is responsible for faking or deliberately misinterpreting the evidence.

The first possibility is of course a position of despair and nihilism, and most people reject it.

The second possibility runs counter to the current observed economic behavior: oil and gas are still popular forms of energy, and keep being used; if use of oil and gas were really a serious problem, and the market were solving the problem, demand for polluting/global-warming energy sources would be vanishing.

But the third possibility is anathema to the laissez-faire capitalist, who _by definition_ - by the fundamental premise of his worldview - cannot accept that a problem exists that can only be solved by government regulation. This is the key (hypothetical) insight. If the conservative accepted that government action were needed, it would undermine his entire understanding of economics and government.

And they can't let it be undermined - for a lot of reasons, but consider this one in particular. Conservatives are regularly accused by liberals of callousness and cruelty - eliminating programs that help people, eliminating regulations that were saving lives, and so on. Remember that the accusations of cruelty have to bother them. Their only rationale for a conservative's supposedly cruel behavior is the firm belief that it is for the best, and that belief is based on his worldview that the market will always solve a problem better than government does. If that worldview were shown to be false, he would have to confront the reality that he has been cruel for no valid reason. He has no choice. He has to double down and play it out to the end.

So he simply rejects the possibility, exactly as a creationist rejects the possibility that a literal Adam did not exist to commit the first sin.

So the laissez-faire capitalist is, I believe, left with no alternative but to believe that science is engaging in a grand conspiracy to falsify evidence, in order to convince the world that climate change is happening - because if it really were happening and had a solution, the market would be finding the best possible solution; since the market isn't solving it, it must not be happening at all.

And they thus have to imagine a rationale for the conspiracy, and of course they imagine an attack on their beliefs: that the reason for the conspiracy is to destroy their worldview. Just as evolution is considered by the creationist to be an atheist conspiracy to destroy Christianity, climate change is considered by the climate-denier to be a communist conspiracy to destroy capitalism.

I would like to see some experiments designed which examine and get at the root beliefs of climate change deniers, to see if the syllogism-like elimination of possibilities I describe is actually what is going on in their heads. I *think* it is, but I would like to see some actual interviews and investigation done, where climate change deniers are willing to expose their thought processes.


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