Global Warming is NOT a Left-Right Issue

Fri, 2008-01-11 10:38Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Global Warming is NOT a Left-Right Issue

The Obama Files

Dismissing climate change as a polarizing political issue is a stunt, crafted by people who are more self-interested than truly conservative. We ought not to get caught in that trap.

I raise the issue in response to Chris Mooney's thoughtful comments about earlier criticism that the DeSmogBlog had levied against Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Chris laid out an astute analysis of the pressures facing candidates who are slogging through the necessary mire of the presidential primaries. He suggested that it would be less than prudent for such a candidate to paint himself into a politically untenable position on climate change. Fair enough.

For those of us who might wish that a leader like Obama would be more courageous, Chris added: “It's a terrible strategy to attack the Democratic candidates from the left right now over global warming - in other words, to argue that they're not going far enough.”

It's an intelligent - and inherently conservative - opinion, but badly framed.

Science is not “left wing.” It's true that any number of breathless denier blogs have characterized the Kyoto agreement as a socialist plot to disrupt the cause of unfettered self-interest. But the people who make those arguments aren't “conservative.” Conservatives are cautious. Conservatives make intelligent judgments about risk.

No. The people who make those arguments are self-styled libertarians - anarchic crusaders against all things governmental - who, in so many coincidental instances, support their operations on grants and donations from fossil fuel giants and their wealthy heirs and assigns.

Unfortunately, this campaign to polarize the issue has been shockingly successful. And here I want to make it clear that I mean no specific criticism of Chris Mooney: I have fallen into this trap a hundred times myself, making casual references to “right-wing think tanks” that have joined the movement to deny, dissemble or delay action on climate change.

But each time we make that mistake - each time we accept the right/left characterization - we polarize the issue further. We tell people who think of themselves as cautious conservatives that they're not part of our team. Rather than engaging them - rather than getting them to actually think about the issue of global warming - we let them off the hook. We accept the stupid assertion that if you don't like Al Gore, you don't have to “believe” in global warming.

Two people have shown real leadership in moving America past this unhelpful paradigm: presidential hopeful John McCain and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They recognized a pressing threat to their country, their economy and the livability of their environment and they responded as any thoughtful, cautious conservative would - with a plan to limit risk.

We should follow their lead. We should remove the polarizing language from this debate and set this conversation out for what it is: a discussion about science, about risk, about prudent government policy. Because, despite what the anarchists say, government is not evil in and of itself. Prudent government is good (if all too rare).

This issue is too big to be conquered by individuals acting alone. We will need all the world's governments - left, right, democratic, totalitarian, the fairly honest and wretchedly disreputable - to come together and act in the best interests of all humankind. And preferably to act faster than even Barack Obama is currently willing to move.

Comments

Thanks, Richard, for pulling all of these threads together. You are absolutely right, of course. In fact, the Green candidate whom I supported in the recent Ontario provincial election was a former Reform Party candidate!

I would go further and suggest that just as we need to set aside partisan ideologies in dealing with AGW, the crisis has the potential to unite humanity globally in a single cause – our very survival – as no calamity in the past has ever been able to do. A key element in the plot of the film Sunshine (a scifi thriller about the sun “shutting down”) was that all fissionable material on the planet was pooled in a one-off chance to re-ignite the star. Pretty far-fetched, I agree, but the idea of all nuclear powers surrendering their supply of whatever-nuclear-bombs-are-made-of to rescue the planet from a cold, slow death is pretty nifty.

I remain optimistic that we will be able to do it, somehow, even if we do have to deal with some pretty disreputable people/governments along the way. Who knows? Maybe we can gain some cross-cultural understanding & mend some international fences in the process.

Fern Mackenzie

For a textbook case of what you describe as “self-styled libertarians - anarchic crusaders against all things governmental,” check out the comment on my response to Bill’s post China’s economic juggernaut wreaks social and environmental havoc in smaller nations. It’s titled: Crypto-denieralists are paper tigers!, and was posted by one of our favourite trolls on Fri, 2008-01-11 10:54.

I don’t know what drives them or how they got that way – can’t even imagine what they are thinking.

Fern Mackenzie

Possibly some of them are political partisans. Here a progressive blogger traced a foulmouthed troll back to the Conservative Party of Canada server: http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com/2008/01/death-of-troll.html

It’s unfortunate that these rabid troublemakers get all of the attention. I know a lot of good people of all political stripes who take AGW very seriously. Others remain sceptical, but you can have an intelligent conversation with them about it without throwing things or calling each other names.

I think that Richard has really nailed it. The people who are shouting the loudest to deny AGW are libertarian opponents to any form of government intrusion into their lives, who see commies behind every tree and government conspiracies hiding under the bed and/or in the closet. Our regular trolls are perfect examples. It’s not worth trying to engage them in a debate or even addressing their points (when they bother to make one), but their posts prove Richard’s point. Despite claims to the contrary, I have taken Chris Crawford’s advice and no longer respond to them, although I will draw attention to their posts to make a point, if appropriate.

There was a very interesting article in the Telegraph a couple of days ago, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/[space inserted] news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=MJUI4021M2WSNQFIQMGSFF4AVCBQWIV0?xml=/[space inserted] news/2008/01/12/nrfact112.xml, which deals with the phenomenon of “counterknowledge”. It is well worth a look. And in following up a reference in the article I found the site for Skeptic magazine – also worth a look at www.skeptic.com

Fern Mackenzie

As I said on Deltoid:

My understanding is that manyh individual libertarians do indeed value the environment etc. However they end up being used as stalking horses by the rabid “i’ve got mine so screw you” crowd, who, whilst professing allegiance to various liberatarian principles, use corruption and chicanery to ensure that a larger slice of the pie passes to them.
Unfortunately few libertarians seem to notice this.

In addition, I’ve seen some libertarians in favour of carbon trading to help reduce CO2, and others who whilst they maynot take part in the political arguing are taking personal steps to cut their CO2 production.

“Libertarian”, like any other label applied to a political point of view, has the full range from thoughtful & responsible to loony & extreme.

Fern Mackenzie

Hmm, for someone who has grandiosely made repeated public vows to ignore my comments – you sure do spend a lot of energy whining about them.

“the crisis has the potential to unite humanity globally in a single cause – our very survival – as no calamity in the past has ever been able to do. A key element in the plot of the film Sunshine (a scifi thriller about the sun “shutting down”) […] Pretty far-fetched […]”

Is it just me, or do Global Warming cultists have an unusually strong affinity for all things “sci-fi thriller” and far-fetched – if not use these as the very foundation of their world view?

Here’s something which should be right up your alley:
The Goracle’s disciples deal with a denier http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=929ceD32uVo&feature=related

Leaving aside your simplistically asinine charicature of contemporary conservative philosophy …

“Conservatives are cautious. Conservatives make intelligent judgments about risk.”

And how is being skeptical of the Global Warming agenda contrary to making an intelligent judgement about risk? To the contrary, it is entirely consistent.

“Because, despite what the anarchists say, government is not evil in and of itself. Prudent government is good (if all too rare).”

It would be instructive had you provided us with an historical example of your conception of a “prudent” government. Tellingly, you didn’t.

You also seem to suffer a rather surreal confusion between anarchism and conservatism. I have a feeling you have no idea what either one entails. But it does sound bombastic, at least, so to hell with the fussy details.

Finally, in what parallel universe would it be “prudent” to entrust any government with public funds to enact a program of legislating the weather? Surely, it would be a smashing success like, say, the gun registry program.

“This issue is too big to be conquered by individuals acting alone. We will need all the world’s governments”

So here your train-wreck of an essay finally blows up in a rhetorical fireball. You advocate that your hypothetical “crisis” can only be addressed by collectivist measures. Any conservative who does not agree with your collectivist program, you claim, ergo must be an “anarchist”.

Dude, you just blew my mind!

Rob, you have me completely stumped. I am not sure whether the inadvertent penning of a “Dadaist word-collage” should make me feel proud or embarrassed. In fact, I don't know even know what you mean (though nothing in your response suggests to me that you know, either).

But once I forged through your subject line, I think I started to catch your drift. I even thought that the phrase “simplistically asinine charicature of contemporary conservative philosophy” was wonderful - and would have been really terrific if you were a better speller.

I'm sorry, though: I still don' believe that ignoring what could be the biggest threat to human survivability on planet earth is “conservative,” even if some part of you actually believes that the “Global Warming agenda” might be a tremendously complicated UN plot to disenfranchise Dick Cheney's shooting party.

On the question of what constitutes “prudent” action by government, I might nominate the provision of roads, sewers, water lines, police and fire services and (brace yourself) public health care.

I totally missed the part of my own “train-wreck of an essay” in which I advocated “legislating the weather.” (Perhaps your ability to perceive “anti-art” and Dadaist sound poetry gives you greater insight into my work than I have myself.) For the record, I was hoping that government might turn its attention to reducing pollution and let the weather go back to taking care of itself.

In the interest of taking one part of your criticism seriously - in taking the risk that you might actually be serious, yourself - I will offer a definition of terms.

For “anarchy,” I like this:

“A theoretical social state in which there is no governing person or body of persons, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder).”[2]

I think the whole notion is goofy - or, in your own bombastic lexicon, surreal - but that's what I think it means.

 As for “conservative,” I like the Latin root: com servare, which the good folks who serve Wikipedia have translated as “to preserve; to protect from loss or harm.”

If you truly believe that nothing government has done could ever have been called prudent - or could be worth preserving - I submit that would make you an anarchist, not a conservative.

As to my support of “collectivist measures,” humans couldn't organize so much as a Sunday soccer game without some act of collectivism. The fact that I like soccer, however, does not make me left wing. Any more than disliking the war in Iraq makes me anti-government - even if I will admit to being a little skeptical of the current U.S. administration.

Finally - Dude! - lest you take any enjoyment from the length of this response, lest you think that I am wasting my Sunday in feverish concern over your own trollery, let me assure you that I wrote all of this entirely for the entertainment of Fern MacKenzie (Hi Fern; love your posts) and the other DeSmogBlog regulars who actually come here with a sincere desire to talk about climate change. And spin.

Thanks for that. I’m sure that VJ, Ian Forrester & Chris Crawford (among many others) are enjoying it as well!

Fern Mackenzie

Very nice, you Dadaist, you!

The way public discussions of policy boil down to partisan cheerleading, as if people are trash-talking about their favorite sports teams, is dangerous and depressing. It would be nice if people focussed on what they really believe, and from that starting point proceeded have a real exchange of ideas. Unfortunately I don’t trust that the trolls believe half of what they write. Their postings are cynical and opportunistic snipes without constructive intent. And this is symptomatic of the greater public discussion. If we as a society ever wish to progress we will have to get back to the roots of our fundamentally shared value systems. I write this as a former Albertan with some conservative, libertarian, and anarchistic leanings.

I doubt that there is anyone who is ALL one “party” or another, except the carved-in-stone ideologues. I agree, Steve – and I think there’s a bit of anarchy in all of us!

Fern Mackenzie

Well done!

”- and would have been really terrific if you were a better speller.”

Ouch! ZING! You just know I’ll be crying myself to sleep for a week.

“I still don’ believe that ignoring what could be the biggest threat to human survivability on planet earth is “conservative,”“

Could be? The list of hypothetical potential crises is endless, as is the list of special interest groups demanding public funds. And since public funds are involved, I’m sure you’ll agree the public has a right to decide what is, and what isn’t, a “crisis”.

You can petulantly stomp your feet and try to undermine your critics with ad hominem attacks all you want, it looks good on you.

“On the question of what constitutes “prudent” action by government, I might nominate the provision of roads, sewers, water lines, police and fire services and (brace yourself) public health care.”

I’d have to disagree with you on most of those points. However, I realise that filtered through the lens of socialist entitlement, it does often appear that government is the sugar-daddy Santa Claus bringer of free stuff. But where do you draw the line? Government monopoly on auto insurance? Government liquour stores? Free crack pipes? Oh, wait … Does that make me an “anarchist” in your books?

“For the record, I was hoping that government might turn its attention to reducing pollution and let the weather go back to taking care of itself.”

It’s a wonder weather ever managed to exist all this time without wise government intervention.

“”A theoretical social state in which there is no governing person or body of persons, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder).”[2]
I think the whole notion is goofy - or, in your own bombastic lexicon, surreal - but that’s what I think it means.”

The fact that you depend exclusively on Wikipedia as an authoritative text doesn’t say much for your depth of understanding. Are you saying that denying any government a mandate to control the weather constitutes anarchy?

Uh, okaaaay …

“If you truly believe that nothing government has done could ever have been called prudent - or could be worth preserving - I submit that would make you an anarchist, not a conservative.”

Well, since I don’t believe that, I guess I’m not what you imagine to be an “anarchist”. If it helps, I think the fundamental error you are making is in defining conservatism in terms of your own left-leaning beliefs. Conservatism, unlike the various flavours of socialism, is not a monolithic set of ideologies. I suggest you cast your net a little further than Wikipedia.

“As to my support of “collectivist measures,” humans couldn’t organize so much as a Sunday soccer game without some act of collectivism. The fact that I like soccer, however, does not make me left wing.”

If you advocate the government forcing me to buy you a soccer ball, or to join your team, then I submit that does make you a leftist.

“Finally - Dude! - lest you take any enjoyment from the length of this response, lest you think that I am wasting my Sunday in feverish concern over your own trollery”

Okay, since it seems so important to you that I think that, I promise not to take any enjoyment. Feel better?

“let me assure you that I wrote all of this entirely for the entertainment of Fern MacKenzie (Hi Fern; love your posts) and the other DeSmogBlog regulars”

Who am I to deny your exquisite oeuvre an audience?

All three of them.

Ahh, Rob, if you actually knew anything about left politics, you wouldn’t say anything like:

“Conservatism, unlike the various flavours of socialism, is not a monolithic set of ideologies. I suggest you cast your net a little further than Wikipedia.”

In fact there is just as much variety on the left and on the right. Its just that because both sides end up having to agree on one party, things look very monolithic to “the other side”. Whereas within their own field, left or right, they know of all the squabbles and arguments, which outsiders are not and therefore think all is harmony within the opposition camp.

Your love of straw men is duly noted.
Personally, I don’t want merely the public deciding what is and isn’t a crisis, since most of us are poorly informed, busy and otherwise engaged and unable to tell what is a crisis, especially after we have been lied to all this time by special interests.

Rob,

Here I go again, demanding that government provide free drug paraphernalia and soccer balls to the middle class. I must be a socialist.

But hang on. I didn’t say any such thing. Neither did I say that “denying any government a mandate to control the weather constitutes anarchy.” Where do you get this stuff?

I actually said that I thought “the provision of roads, sewers, water lines, police and fire services and (brace yourself) public health care” is an appropriate role for prudent governments. To which you replied, “I’d have to disagree with you on most of those points.”

Do tell. I mean, let’s set aside health care; I never expected agreement there. And let’s set aside roads, as well, because the government’s appetite for freeways is getting on my nerves. But water lines? Fire services? Courts? Is there nothing in your mind that constitutes an appropriate - even prudent - area for government attention?

As to my failure to understand your particular brand of conservatism, please, enlighten me there as well. So far, you have done workmanlike duty imagining things I might have added to my post if I was brain dead or, say, a letter carrier for a 1940s communist comrade, and then criticizing those things - sometimes with promising glimpses of humor. How about you react to something that I have actually said or, even better, tell us what YOU think. 

PS

On the question of my use of Wiki references, get over yourself. My collected essays of John Locke and Adam Smith are - like everyone else’s - in a dusty box in the garage, whereas the internet is, well, it’s right here. You may be entertaining in a minor sort of way, but you’re not worth a trip to the garage.

A new rating system! Which arguments rate a trip to the garage, to the basement, to the bookshelf in the living room, or to wiki?

I think the troll just made your case for you.

Game, set, match …

Fern Mackenzie

It’s not a left-right issue, agreed. And I agree with Fern that political labels (whether self-applied or other-applied) aren’t very helpful generally anyway, since the range of personal behaviours engaged in by any given “member” of a political label community can be dramatically diverse.

I disagree, however, with the continued emphasis on politicians and governments. Stop waiting for governments to “act”, and do what you know needs to be done in your own lives! If everyone who claimed to understand what needs to be done actually DID IT THEMSELVES there would be much less need for governments to enact legislation that may contradict basic principles of social justice - in the name of “saving the environment”. I really don’t understand this juvenile attitude of “I’m not gonna do it unless everyone else is forced to” - what is that? Some kind of Yuppie thing? Some kind of “corporate stooge pretending to be environmentally conscious as a PR exercise while continuing to live like Al Gore” thing?

I should be celebrating the progress that has been made, and the awakening that is taking place in countries around the world - but I can’t, because people who claim to be participants in a movement I’ve been involved in for 30 years keep advocating heavy-handed government policies that inherently violate the principles of social justice which ought to be of equal importance to them. Give the rich tax credits for their “carbon-credit” BS investments, so they can parade around claiming to be “green” (like Al Gore), and then seize & impound the late ’70s or early ’80s vehicles of the working poor - in areas with lousy public transit - threatening their ability to work and support their families? Come on!

Park your own gas guzzlers, for good. Sell your corporate stock. Reduce your consumer consumption by at least 25% if you have an income over $30,000/year. Do it, yourselves, and stop worrying so much about what your neighbors are or are not doing. Please.

On an individual level, I agree completely. But most individuals don’t adopt the “I won’t do anything until everyone is on board” attitude, they really do just go ahead and do it. In the process they provide an example for others of how it can be done, thus spreading the goodness.

Trouble is, with big business and governments, issues of “competitive edge” come into play. Unless there’s a level playing field on which all of the major automakers have to conform to emission standards &c, who’s going to go out on a limb and take the first step? Governments, on the other hand, are not businesses, and it is incumbent them at every level to lead & set an example.

Individual action alone won’t get us where we need to go. It will take action on all levels and in many different ways.

Fern Mackenzie

It’s worth pointing people who consider themselves conservatives and therefore ideologically opposed to anything Al Gore says to she who came before…

http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=108237

There’s no sense in any of that of a left-wing conspiracy.

who won’t bother to follow the link, it is worth posting a quote from Ms Thatcher from this speech, given at the 2nd World Climate Conference, 6 November 1990:

“… The threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.

“Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. No-one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order.”

I have never been a huge fan of Dame Margaret, but when she was right, she was right.

Fern Mackenzie

Oh yes, the “level playing field” whine, which is exactly the same as the “I’m not gonna do it unless everyone else is forced to” whine. I don’t see that particular sniveling restricted to industry, Fern - I read it all the time on a variety of “green” sites, particularly greenwashing sites devoted to saving the planet thru buying MORE, but “greener”, consumer goods.

They can’t sell what you refuse to buy. If you’re not buying it, they won’t produce it. Stop waiting for top-down action and take some bottom-up action on your own, I say. If industries refuse to voluntarily reduce their pollutant output, not buying their products were force them to do so INvoluntarily - by forcing them to reduce production at the very least.

No, this won’t destroy the economy. Local, small business is the most efficient producer of jobs, is almost inherently less harmful to the environment (people can walk to their jobs and/or to retail & service outlets). Spend your money at local small business and craftmen/artisans as well as farmer’s markets. And if you’re concerned about jobs in third-world countries, the small business loan programs in places like India are doing far more to alleviate poverty than multinational labor exploiters like Coke or MacDonalds.

Don’t let government inaction be an excuse for personal inaction. DIY!

I agree absolutely that we have to make conscientious choices as consumers. Find out whether your pears were shipped by truck or by train, eat fruit only in season, buy meat (if at all) from local producers, and if you need a car, buy a hybrid or (better yet) an electric one. All of the actions you recommend are spot on. No argument.

But I am also concerned about how much time we’ve got left to get things under control, and I am not convinced that consumer pressure alone will change things quickly enough when it comes to some of the key large-scale emitters etc, such as coal-fired energy producers, car manufacturers, and the other big users/producers. I don’t think that advocating regulations to create a level playing field is “whining”. Government is the only body in a position to deal with getting a grip at that level in a hurry. There is still a HUGE market out there for over-sized gas-guzzlers (I think some people actually buy them on principle to show disdain for the whole AGW “hoax”), and even a substantial percentage of us buying the fuel efficient models won’t turn that around. If Hummers, SUVs and Cadillac barges are available, people will continue to buy them.

I, too, am ready to shout from the rooftops: “Don’t let government inaction be an excuse for personal inaction.” But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a real need for government to act.

Fern Mackenzie

see Bill Miller’s most recent post: It’s already later than we realize in the struggle to arrest climate change
14 Jan 08

(edited)
also: this morning’s Globe & Mail straw poll question “Will the next vehicle you buy be a hybrid?” is running 35% yes, 65% no

Fern Mackenzie

On a slightly different note, Richard, you seem to have got it mostly correct but the title. Meaning you might want to consider the value of framing your titles in the positive with your own frame/image/methaphor. As mentioned in his succinct and insightful book “Don’t think of an Elephant”, George Lakoff points out that if you simply put the word ‘not’ in front of the frame (in this case the frame is CC as a L.vs R. thing) you still elicit the frame in people’s minds just like if you ask people to *not* think of an elephant, an image of an elephant comes to mind instantly.

It seems like a trivial thing to pick on (and I don’t want to pick on you cuz it’s a very good column) but surely part of desmogging is to strive to get out of mental metaphors and frames provided by others in the climate debate and replace them with your own.

… Across the Political Spectrum

 Quite so.

It seems those on the right wing can spare no dollar when it comes to issues of national security.
http://greyfalcon.net/iraqvsenergy.png

Perhaps what we need to do is start framing Climate Change from a “National Security” standpoint.

http://www.janes.com/security/international_security/news/misc/janes070130_1_n.shtml
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2004/02/09/360120/index.htm
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1153513,00.html
http://www.grist.org/news/muck/2004/02/25/pentagoners/

The US military conducted a study on the effects of Climate Change on US National Security. The report was released in February of 2004, but only after the Bush Administration sat on it for 4 months…

[x]
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