I’ve already noted how much the denial movement not only tolerates, but positively embraces a conspiratorial world view. The best local example we have is Jo Nova’s blog.
Recent comments by some of the leading “climate change sceptics” in the United States media provide further evidence of the distorted world view that characterises climate change denial.
Prominent media personalities on the Right wing of American politics – Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck – have advanced the theory that the recent oil leak and fire that cost the lives of 11 people and seen millions of barrels worth of oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico may have been an “inside job”.
To quote Limbaugh:
But this bill, the cap-and-trade bill, was strongly criticized by hardcore environmentalist wackos because it supposedly allowed more offshore drilling and nuclear plants, nuclear plant investment. So, since they’re sending SWAT teams down there, folks, since they’re sending SWAT teams to inspect the other rigs, what better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I’m just noting the timing here.”
In short, the Obama administration deliberately sabotaged the Deep Horizon oil rig to create a disaster that would allow them to… I’m not sure. Provide an excuse for the cap-and-trade legislation? Blunt efforts for more offshore drilling of the coasts of the US?
I call this the “I’m just saying…” approach to conspiracy theory making. In short, you don’t need to present evidence. You simply connect two (or more) unrelated events and hint at a connection.
Such conspiracy making is almost impossible to refute, as the accuser retreats to the fall back “Yeah, but I’m just saying…”
The paranoid style of American politics
In 1964 Richard Hofstadter published one of the seminal essays on American politics in Harper’s titled “The paranoid style of American politics”. It was an examination of how in American politics is it not uncommon for a tiny, but vocal fringe, to derail the public debate. It is worth quoting:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind…
“The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced. The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction…”
One hundred years ago the targets of the “angry mind” were the Freemasons, Jews and Socialists. Today they are the Liberals, greens and scientists.
How much different are the claims of the denial movement from this historical brand of conspiracy driven politics?
Not very I’d suggest. Indeed, the paranoid style is consistent: it is only the “other” who changes shapes. Jews morph into international banks, and socialists into greens. However, all of these groups seem to exert a malign influence who the conspiracy theorist works hard to “unmask”.
Given that the US is the leading political and economic power – and the largest emitter of C02 – what happens in the US is of critical importance. By halting any response to climate change in the US, the denial movement effectively holds the rest of the world to ransom.
The tragedy is that this long running feature of American political discourse paralysis the debate on climate change globally.