Saturday, October 18, 2014

How to actually convince conservatives to fight global warming

Scott Alexander has penned a compelling and thought-harvesting piece on political tribalism and biased thinking, with specific examples including the Ferguson shooting, the ISIS violence campaign and the Rotherham rape scandal. He said people's positions on current issues are heavily determined by the narrative advanced by the two major political sides, liberal and conservative.

What stood out the most to me is when he took to task the condescending examples of counter-narratives written to get conservatives to get involved in the fight against global warming. I had also seen these new narratives in reporters on a recent Stanford University paper that showed a Jonathan Haidt-style to moral reasoning.

First, Alexander penned this as the blue tribe narrative on global warming:

Global warming proves that unrestrained capitalism is destroying the planet. Global warming disproportionately affects poor countries and minorities. Global warming could have been prevented with multilateral action, but we were too dumb to participate because of stupid American cowboy diplomacy. Global warming is an important cause that activists and NGOs should be lauded for highlighting. Global warming shows that Republicans are science denialists and probably all creationists.

Thats an accurate summary of the left-wing view, and when asked if global warming is caused by pollution, conservatives are largely being asked if they accept that narrative. Alexander argues that's a big part of why so many say "No" despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. I completely agree with him.

The Stanford study in question attempted to create a useful conservative narrative that would allow right-wingers to accept climate change science without compromising their world view. Sadly, the results were uninspired and disingenuous:

Being pro-environmental allows us to protect and preserve the American way of life. It is patriotic to conserve the country’s natural resources.

Ugh. As Alexander said, "I can’t imagine anyone falling for this." Yet, the study showed conservatives were more likely to get on board the climate change resistance when presented with this narrative. Like Alexander, I found the proposed narrative too contrived.

His solution was to pen a political diatribe that would actually work to get conservatives on board. I don't use this word very often, but what he wrote is epic.
In the 1950s, brave American scientists shunned by the climate establishment of the day discovered that the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to potentially devastating natural disasters that could destroy American agriculture and flood American cities. As a result, the country mobilized against the threat. Strong government action by the Bush administration outlawed the worst of these gases, and brilliant entrepreneurs were able to discover and manufacture new cleaner energy sources. As a result of these brave decisions, our emissions stabilized and are currently declining.

Unfortunately, even as we do our part, the authoritarian governments of Russia and China continue to industralize and militarize rapidly as part of their bid to challenge American supremacy. As a result, Communist China is now by far the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, with the Russians close behind. Many analysts believe Putin secretly welcomes global warming as a way to gain access to frozen Siberian resources and weaken the more temperate United States at the same time. These countries blow off huge disgusting globs of toxic gas, which effortlessly cross American borders and disrupt the climate of the United States. Although we have asked them to stop several times, they refuse, perhaps egged on by major oil producers like Iran and Venezuela who have the most to gain by keeping the world dependent on the fossil fuels they produce and sell to prop up their dictatorships.

We need to take immediate action. While we cannot rule out the threat of military force, we should start by using our diplomatic muscle to push for firm action at top-level summits like the Kyoto Protocol. Second, we should fight back against the liberals who are trying to hold up this important work, from big government bureaucrats trying to regulate clean energy to celebrities accusing people who believe in global warming of being ‘racist’. Third, we need to continue working with American industries to set an example for the world by decreasing our own emissions in order to protect ourselves and our allies. Finally, we need to punish people and institutions who, instead of cleaning up their own carbon, try to parasitize off the rest of us and expect the federal government to do it for them.

Please join our brave men and women in uniform in pushing for an end to climate change now.

Bear in mind, Alexander isn't approaching this narrative as an accurate, fair take on the world, but as a narrative that conservatives would swallow. It is still well done, and it shows a lot more effort and familiarity than trying to cram "patriotism" in where it doesn't belong.

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen for the link. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I appreciate the author's sensitivity to narrative and how important an issue's narrative is in the big picture.