Friday, January 15, 2010

Why are the Climate Rednecks Revolting (and What Can Be Done)?

The Rebellion against Action on Climate Change is in full swing. The extreme right of politics is providing the firepower and media management skills in an attempt to rewind the plan shared by member countries of the United Nations to reduce emissions of Greenhouse Gases and shift to non-polluting energy platforms.
The Rebellion exploits the major weakness in its UN’s defences: Climate Change is a complex issue that few people understand. Inside this void a potent mixture of junk science, sloganeering and smear have been woven into conspiracy theories that play to the fears of the unsophisticated voter.
So far the Rebels have used politicised ‘scientists’ as an alternative authority to gain traction in the debate. Official science failed to respond to the challenge, simply dismissing the Denialists’ scientists’ output as “rubbish” which can’t be found in peer-reviewed journals. Common-sense folk have no idea what this means. The arrogance of the dismissal made common folk less-than-eager to find out.

The mindset of the Rebels is a potent mix of the political, economic, religious and psychological.

From the longest view, The Rebellion is the next chapter in the battle for control of environmental policy. Rebels see Climate Change as a giant hoax – a Trojan Horse to give the Environmentalists control of public policy and put an end to the fossil fuel industry. The world’s largest fossil fuel company – Exxon Mobil – has bankrolled the Rebellion, and admits it. Some rebels see an even more sinister plot aimed at de-industrialising the West, sending mankind back to the Middle Ages.
The cause of this calamity will be the destruction of the economy when the cost of environmental damage is factored in to the price of goods and services. The economic irrationalists who believe this make no allowance for new technologies and new economic models which will emerge when the price on carbon unlocks the entrepreneurial spirit that drives innovation. They entertain no optimism, see only downside.

Economic Man’s motivation for joining the Rebellion can be explained by a theory called “The Circulation of Elites”. Described by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in the 19th century, the theory holds that the emergence of new industries and new economic models cause old money to lose top position to new money. Climate Change threatens the privileged existence of old technology leaders like Exxon-Mobil executives. Scratch any Rebel leader and you'll find a link to mining and fossil fuels.
Elites, however, can decide how they react to new economic structures. For example, BP (formerly British Petroleum) became Beyond Petroleum when the company took the new model head on to become a major manufacturer of solar panels. Peak oil put a cap on BP’s future anyway, while the coalminers report that they have 250 years of supply left to mine. “The cheapest form of energy”, coal will remain so unless a price is put on Carbon. Such a price is necessary to cover the cost of the damage* done by the pollutant*. Here, then, is the raw economic threat: the price of coal will rise dramatically should a new economic order based on the words asterixed above comes into existence. The fossil fuel industry has been free-riding on the taxpayer for the real cost of their operations, and they don't want to lose their unofficial subsidy, say environmentalists..

The Third Element in the mix of forces driving the Rebellion is religion. Many extreme-right ideologues are fundamentalist in religion as well as politics. Many fundamentalists believe that God has sent Global Warming as part of the “End Times” spoken of in the Book of the Apocalypse. To resist it by taking action against Climate Change is to resist the will of God. A major influence in the USA, Australia also has many fundamentalists in politics.

There is also a deep psychological foundation for the Rebellion. The language of the footsoldiers and commanders of the Rebellion is aggressive, dismissive and lampooning. Such behaviour indicates fear and anxiety and this can explain the Rebellion’s psychological dynamic. Despair is very common among country people, and denial is just that – denial, a standard means of coping with the overwhelming sense of powerlessness that Climate Change can induce. Farmers live everyday with the evidence of deteriorating climate conditions, yet they are the most likely to agree with Denialists. In Australia the Government and Opposition agreed on a package of Climate Change arrangements that is the most generous of any nation in the world. Yet the farm lobby says it is not enough. There are many who have not heard of the package. Denial means shutting information out and admitting only information that bolsters the Denial.
The Denialists live in hope that Climate Change is a hoax. It is their only chance. More than 2000 conventional scientists have had their integrity questioned and are accused of conspiring with the diplomates of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change to ‘cook the books’. Their alleged motivation: jobs (for the scientists) and trips abroad and cocktail parties (for the diplomats). Those who oppose Denialism dismiss such charges as ‘rubbish’. But – as an ‘end of the world’ scenario hangs heavy in the air whenever Climate Change is mentioned – people who are prone to distrust institutions are also prone to find a cushion for their pain in the simplistic solutions of populist leaders.

This confluence of political, economic, religious and psychological forces makes the task of winning the war for ‘the truth’ so much harder. The Rebellion has a unity about it. It is so much easier to be unified against something than for something which you must define. But this negative unity can be at once a strength and a weakness. It is a monoculture. A single contagious idea could wreck its unity and deflect its impulsion. The idea must be potent enough to break through the ideological screen and cause the Rebel footsoldiers to doubt.
The response to date to predictions of doom from establishment scientists proves that this appoach makes no impression. Images of IPCC scientists wringing their hands in the media contribute to the ‘alarmist’ tag the Rebels have so easily attached to them. The strategy for creating doubt in the minds of the Rebellion Footsoldiers must not enable their leadership to rebadge it as ‘alarmist’ propaganda. What makes a contention ‘alarmist’? When he hearer believes that here is nothing to be alarmed about.

The concept of “Food Security” has most potential to wedge the Denialists and their followers. In recent years the world’s security forces have been preparing plans for the outbreak of conflicts and wars as “Climate Refugees” in prodigious numbers invade other countries in search of food and water. Several ‘hot spots’ have been identified and one of them is Australia. The Australian Defence Forces, the Australian Federal Police and several strategic military panels in the USA have pointed to the likelihood of flooding and crop failures causing famine and civil unrest in Indonesia and Southern China. A report to the Pentagon in 2003 predicted 40 million climate refugees could be on the move in our neighbourhood within 40 years if Climate Change is allowed to proceed unchecked. Australians are spooked by 78 Sri Lankans in a leaky boat arriving off the northern coastline. How would they react to credible reports that, if Climate Change is not tamed, Townsville will in all likelihood be an Asian city of 5 million by the time their grandchildren are their age.
To dissociate the message from the Climate Change establishment – which has no credibility with the Rebels - the message could be delivered by the Chief of the Defence Force, the Chief Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police could be asked to present their reports at a joint press conference, for maximum impact. At the same conference, the report by the US Armed Forces Panels could be referenced.
The wave of anxiety among those groups traditionally sensitive to these threats could cause them to question the Abbot/Joyce doctrine. They should be forced to ask themselves “What if Tony/Barnaby is wrong?"


The father of the American conservation movement, Aldo Leopold, observed that the abolition of slavery was the “First Great Moral Advance for Humanity.” This advance took place when Western Society recognised that one human being cannot own another human being. They are members of the same community – the family of man –with rights and obligations.
The next great leap forward rests on the belief that man is not only a member of the human community, he is also a member of the broader community of living creatures – the Ecological Community. Each animal, plant, and microbe has a role to play in maintaining a liveable biosphere and each deserves protection and respect.
Aldo Leopold called it the “Land Ethic”. He wrote: “All ethics so far evolved rest on a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics also prompt him to co-operate… The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals or collectively, the land.”
This is the ultimate challenge for Humanity. Do we have the courage and confidence to accept a new discipline, the loss of a freedom enjoyed since the human race emerged a the top of the food chain and set out to ‘subdue the earth’ and lay waste to it with no thought for the future. God’s instructions were, according to King James version of the Bible, “replenish the Earth and subdue it”.

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