- What's the Best Strategy for Dealing with Deniers?
- For God and a Greener Country
- Global News: US Cuts Coal Use at Home, Sends More Abroad; India Now Top Recipient of U.S. Solar Funding
- As Journalists Cover Record Spikes in Electricity Demand, Why Are They Ignoring Solar PV?
Posted: 13 Aug 2011 07:02 AM PDT
– David Roberts, in a Grist cross-post.
The other day, I wrote about a study that attempted to explain why conservative white men (CWM) are so loathe to accept the threat of climate change. It has to do with system justification and identity-protective cognition. Go read it!
The question remains: What should we do about it? The denialism or indifference of CWM toward climate is a huge barrier to getting anything done. In this post, I'm going to argue that the typical strategies are doomed to failure. It may be that the simplest, least clever strategy — kick their [metaphorical] asses — is still the way to go.
The original and still most popular approach to dealing with climate deniers is reasoned persuasion: facts and figures and reports and literature reviews and slideshows and whitepapers. This hasn't ever really worked, but climate types keep trying, like American tourists in a foreign country who try to overcome the language barrier by talking louder and more slowly.
While the study postulated a lot of interesting things about CWM, one thing it didn't ascribe to them is ignorance. In fact, the CWM who know the most about climate science are the most likely to reject the consensus account. And this isn't a new finding. Yale's "Six Americas" report found that the highly skeptical are more informed about climate change science than those who report a high degree of concern about it (the latter of whom still regularly confuse climate with the ozone hole, etc.).
A large number of CWM have taken pains to seek out information on climate change so that they can dispute it. You've no doubt encountered them in comment sections online. This is called motivated reasoning: reasoning aimed at justifying a pre-existing conclusion or social identity, gathering supporting facts and ignoring disconfirming evidence.
Motivated reasoning is something all human beings do; we all defend and justify our social identities. In fact, some interesting new social science argues that motivated reasoning is not a bug but a feature — what reason evolved to do. Nevertheless, there's a difference between motivated reasoning and complete epistemic closure, which is what the right has achieved on climate (and other issues as well).
Which suggests that giving CWM still more facts and arguments is not going to achieve anything.
One sentiment, lately growing in popularity, is that the best way around the CWM climate conundrum is just to stop talking about it. If climate has become divisive and partisan, then drop it; there's plenty of good policy that doesn't require climate as a premise. That's the thrust of the recent "Climate Pragmatism" report and the idea seems to be catching on. I addressed that notion in a post last week and said most of what I need to say there. I'll just add that there's an implicit premise in the "pragmatism" argument. It assumes that climate is a unique barrier to cooperation with CWM in positions of power and that there are other areas where CWM can be brought around to support clean energy. But what if climate isn't unique? What if CWM reject it because it came from a tribe they see as their enemies and they'll reject anything that comes from that tribe? Then dropping climate has won nothing and sacrificed moral authority and simple honesty.
A somewhat more sophisticated take says that we should talk about climate differently, in a way that does not trigger CWM defenses. David Ropeik (whose work on risk perception everyone should be reading) has a post on the CWM study in which he says:
In the abstract, this makes plenty of sense, though it's rarely spelled out in any detail. Offer CWM an entree into the issue that doesn't require them to give up their tribal affiliations and commitments. Find common ground. Who could argue?
Notice the gigantic underlying assumption, though: that climate change can be rendered benign to the current cultural/tribal perspectives of CWM. Is that so? It's often claimed that if climate is discussed as a national security issue, an economic opportunity, or a religious/moral imperative, it will bring skeptics over. But those claims have not born out in practice, despite years of attempts. CWM grow steadily more skeptical even as the military, the private sector, and religious institutions grapple with the truth.
The fact is that climate change triggers system justification among privileged classes because it really does carry a threat to the system! It implies an argument for global governance when CWM are nationalistic, an argument for egalitarianism when they are hierarchical, an argument for conservation when they love capitalism, an argument for investment and regulation when they hate government. It also implies that hippies have been right and the conservative movement wrong, for decades.
In communications among individuals, the psychology of communication can be helpful. But framing — which is where lots of wonks and academics seem to begin and end — is not a sufficient political solution. There's a reason CWM have the cultural/tribal perspectives they do. They are heavily influenced by people and institutes whose interests are threatened by the solutions to climate change.
Denialism in context
Where climate scientists, energy wonks, academics, and eco-journalists go wrong is in abstracting climate change from the larger political situation. They approach it in isolation, wondering what characteristics of this particular phenomenon invoke this particular reaction in these particular people. That distorts their reactions.
The fact is, as I've written before, climate denialism is part of something much larger. The most significant driving force behind climate change denial among CWM is not any ineffable psychological mystery but simply the increasing intensity and radicalization of the American conservative movement. The same dynamic afflicting climate change is afflicting the debate over fiscal policy, the economy, jobs, and health care. The right is rejecting empirical reality and adopting a stance of unshakeable ideological opposition to anything the non-right does, even policies they have supported in the past (see: individual mandate in health care, cap-and-trade in environmental policy). The core of the CWM tribal perspective is loyalty to the tribe and hostility to outsiders.
There is a serious asymmetry between the left and right in America that lots and lots and lots of people, for whatever reason, don't want to acknowledge. The left remains a broad, fractious coalition composed of all sorts of competing interests. The right, by contrast, has become increasingly clarified. Since Reagan, but accelerating since Gingrich, the right has become more and more homogenous, composed of CWM who share a visceral sense of being besieged, of "losing their country," of seeing their privileged normative place in U.S. culture slip away. They view liberals not as fellow Americans with differing policy views but as a threat to the moral fiber and even the existence of the country. Manicheanism has always been part of the conservative temperament, but that propensity has been hugely accelerated by the construction of a self-contained media machine that runs on fear. They need everything divided into two buckets: good and evil.
In those circumstances, the chances of luring CWM into the climate hawk coalition seem exceedingly slim, no matter how clever and psychologically adept the messaging.
Let's remember the goal. The goal is action. The support of CWM is a means to that end, but not necessarily the only means to that end. Perhaps instead of hiding from the fight, or transcending the fight by finding common ground, climate hawks could win the fight. A crazy notion, I know.
CWM are blocking the entire, diverse climate coalition from taking action by virtue of intensity (not to mention a broken and utterly dysfunctional political system). The poll numbers are consistently on climate hawks' side, but their support is shallow and fickle. The Tea Party, on the other hand, views even efficient lightbulbs as incipient tyranny. As I've said many times, intensity wins in politics.
If that's true, perhaps the answer is not to reduce intensity in hopes of attracting CWM. Perhaps the answer is to increase intensity in order to overcome CWM. Intensity is increased first and foremost through organizing, but also through clear, inspiring messages that draw sharp lines between those fighting for progress and those fighting against it.
The implicit premise of climate "pragmatism" and similar efforts is that CWM are stronger, that climate hawks can't win a direct clash. And for now, that seems to be true. Beating back the radical conservative resurgence is something that nobody on the left has figured out yet. But the alternative, attempting to win over CWM by soft-pedaling climate, doesn't exactly have a record of success either.
In the end, everyone has to make their own bet. Do you make progress by attempting to please the Very Serious People running the system or by speaking truth to power and subverting the system? For my part, when I see people denying facts and bullying scientists in order perpetuate the dominance of fossil fuel interests that are killing people and threatening my children's futures, I am inclined to tell them to go f*ck themselves. That won't resonate with their social/tribal perspectives, but that's because I find their social/tribal perspectives repugnant and worthy of social censure. I want to beat them.
– David Roberts
Posted: 13 Aug 2011 05:50 AM PDT
by CAP's David Liu
When most Americans think of faith communities they don't necessarily think of environmentalism. Yet across the nation groups of believers from a wide range of religions are taking steps to protect the planet for future generations.
Despite only recently rising to public prominence in America, the relationship between environmentalism and religion has a long history. According to many religious leaders, the relationship began with the first creation story. "Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because 'creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works', and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind," said Pope Benedict XVI in his January 1, 2010 message for the World Day of Peace.
The American religious community is very diverse, but the theological arguments for environmentalism are often similar between different religions: To destroy and waste the environment is to disrespect God's creations, the argument goes, so humanity should look after God's creations instead of exploiting them. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and interfaith groups are all organizing locally and nationally to protect the environment and live greener lives.
Acting locally is a major tenet of the green movement, and places of worship are a great place to spark local action. They are often focal points in their community and therefore a good place to start a dialogue about anything from climate change to the efficient use of resources. Changing how a place of worship uses energy can inspire others to do the same, and have other positive effects, too.According to Energy Star, a government-supported program that sets international standards for energy-efficient consumer products, if America's more than 370,000 places of worship were to cut energy usage by 10 percent, they could save nearly $315 million and more than 1.8 billion kWh of electricity would be available. More than 1.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented—that's equivalent to taking 240,000 cars off the road or planting nearly 300,000 acres of trees. Clearly, faith communities can produce huge benefits for the planet by going green.
There are already huge successes. The United Methodist-related Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, is the second institution of higher education to go completely carbon neutral. The First Baptist Church of Orlando invested in greening their facilities, and in 20 months have saved $792,000 in utility cost reductions. And St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Monroe, Georgia has managed to save 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water through their own efforts to keep their church green.
Places of worship are used for different reasons at different times, and they are even designed differently than other buildings. That can make it hard to figure out how to keep your place of worship green. Here are some tips and resources for faith communities looking to green their places of worship:
This summer, see if you can find a way to get your faith community to go green. To stay in the loop on the efforts of religious communities to protect the environment, take a look at the CAP Faith and Progressive Policy's environment page.
– David Liu
Posted: 13 Aug 2011 05:31 AM PDT
A round-up of recent international climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 12:36 PM PDT
From a New York Times piece on the closure of coal-fired power plants:
Here's a bright idea:
But yet again, two major publications – the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal – have written big stories on peak electricity demand with no mention of solar photovoltaics (PV).
Why, despite the proven, cost-competitive benefits of using solar PV to match spiking electricity use, is hardly anyone in the press bothering to talk about the technology?
Yesterday's NYT piece was particularly egregious. In writing about how utilities are going to make up for lost generation due to EPA air-quality regulations, the reporter seems to deliberately ignore the technology, and instead use the opportunity to rail on wind:
Why the focus on wind, and nothing about solar PV? (More about the wind comments below). Rather than make the obvious point that the wind blows less during heat waves, it doesn't take much to ask if all that sunshine could be put to good use.
It's mind-blowing that solar PV didn't even get mentioned in the possible list of alternatives. As we've covered numerous times on Climate Progress (See the response to another NYT article: "As Cuomo Plans Shut Down of Indian Point Nuclear Plant, Experts Fail to Value of Solar and Efficiency for NY City," and "This Looks Like a Job for Solar PV: Heat Wave Causes Record Breaking Electricity Demand") Solar PV can be deployed locally in a matter of months, generate electricity at prices far below the cost of natural gas peaking plants, and save utilities money on building new transmission infrastructure.
We're not talking about advocating for solar PV as some feel-good solution; rather, recognizing it as a competitive player for meeting peak electricity needs and stabilizing the grid. It doesn't make any sense that a reporter writing on the business of energy would fail to mention one of the best methods for addressing the challenges outlined in the article.
And as an aside, wind isn't exactly what American Electric Power makes it out to be in the NYT piece either. In fact, coastal wind farms were responsible for keeping the lights on in Texas last week during record demand. Trip Doggett, the CEO of Texas' grid operator, explained that coastal wind farms provided electricity exactly when needed for the state:
Clearly, the further inland wind farms are, the less electricity they'll generate during the hottest days – and that is an issue that grid operators need to deal with. But for AEP to categorically claim that you can't rely on wind farms isn't right. It all depends on where they're sited.
The second article from the WSJ focused on the dire situation in Texas, where the grid operator is seeing highs in demand that weren't expected until 2014:
The record demand due to the heat wave brought wholesale electricity prices up to $3,000 a megawatt-hour – or $3 a kilowatt-hour – numerous times in the past week. The average retail price for electricity in the U.S. is 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. By comparison, large-scale solar PV projects in Texas are able to generate energy for less than 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Texas simply doesn't have enough generation capacity in place in the coming years to meet projected spikes in peak electricity demand. That could drive prices up further and compromise the reliability of the grid.
But again, solar, a technology that can meet those demands and help stabilize the grid, is conspicuously absent from the coverage.
In all fairness to the reporter, the story was not really about generation sources – it was mostly about Ercot's handling of the immediate problem. However, coverage of the issue opens up a lot of relevant questions about how to cost-competitively meet rising demand given the prospects for longer, more intense heat waves.
This summer's electricity demand records offer the perfect opportunity to explore the value of solar PV. It's a shame that the mainstream press isn't recognizing that.
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