Category Archives: Neo-fundamentalism (?)

Polling of 13,500 people show most believe climate change is happening; USA remains the “sceptics” heartland

An interesting poll via the Telegraph:

An online poll of 13,500 adults in 13 countries found that most people believe that climate change is happening. 

The figures ranged from 98 percent in Mexico and Hong Kong and 97 percent in Indonesia to 80 percent in Belgium and 72 percent in the United States.

Rising average temperatures, drought and extreme rainfall were the phenomena that people most cited.

However countries had a much more variable opinion over whether whether it is mankind causing global warming. 

Asked whether human activity was mainly responsible for climate change, 94 percent of citizens in Hong Kong agreed, followed by 93 percent in Indonesia, 92 percent in Mexico and 87 percent in Germany.

The United States remains the “heartland” of climate scepticism: this may lend support to the idea that denial is a product of right-wing popularism. Thus it is strongest where the culture war is being waged and think tanks, conservative politicians and fundamentalist Christians are most actively opposed to the science and regulatory efforts:

Dissent was strongest in the United States, where 58 percent agreed with the question, in Britain (65 percent) and Japan (78 percent).

The survey was carried out from July 5 to August 6 by the opinion poll group Ipsos for the insurance firm Axa.

It was conducted in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

The results come as the climate change debate becomes more important to the US election. 

Campaign groups are threatening to target the vulnerable congressional seats of Republicans who dismiss the dangers of climate change. 

In the UK, trust in climate change science was damaged by the theft of emails from the University of East Anglia or so-called ‘climategate’. Sceptics claimed that the emails showed scientists were willing to exaggerate global warming – although later inquiries found the science remained sound.

In Japan global warming has been dismissed as nuclear industry propaganda. 

In comparison, developing countries, that are more likely to be hit by extreme weather events, are more likely to believe mankind is responsible for climate change.

The countries with strongest public support are those most likely to suffer the worst impacts.

Makes sense does it not?

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Climate sceptics versus the enemies within: conspiracy culture, right wing popularism and the art of counter-subversion (Part 1)

“Man-made climate change is a myth… I think all these issues have to be settled on the base of real science, not manufactured science” – Michelle Bachmann

I’m continuing my research in what is now a very clear association between parts of the climate sceptic movement and conspiracy culture.

For those interested in conspiracy culture I plan to regularly publish lists of those texts and papers I’ve read over the past few years – all of which will be added to the libraryThis will also help set the scene for what will no doubt be the focus of this blog from this point forward: conspiracy culture and the role of values in the climate change debate.

The following post refers you to some key scholarly texts, but also why I believe they are relevant to any attempted understanding of climate change scepticism. I’m also sketching out in broad terms some key concepts based on my reading of the academic literature. From this point much of the research, writing and work of this blog will flow from my reading and interacting with scholars on the above.

There is a lot to take in here: consider this a “primer” with subsequent posts and articles discussing these concepts in more detail.

With this in mind, let us enter the world of conspiracy culture and the fear of the coming New World Order and just how much it dominates the fears and nightmares of sceptics and conservatives…

Manufacturing a global crisis with climate change: the conspiracy culture and climate scepticism link

Where to begin your understanding of conspiracy culture and its relation to climate scepticism?

That was the challenge I faced several years ago as a novice blogger with some general assumptions about conspiracy culture and the drivers of conspiracy theorists.

Was it all simple paranoia?

Where these people somehow unwell?

Is this a new political phenomenon?

What I found was surprising – to me at least.

Conspiracy culture is more pervasive than one would image and has been shaping politics in surprising ways – more so than it is generally understood by those of us assuming people view the word in the same logical, Enlightenment model of the world employed by the scientists or the “rational” individual.

If the evidence is overwhelming, acceptance – or belief – should follow.

Right?

As it turns out reason is somewhat in short supply and conspiracy theories have been flourishing on the margins of politics and debate for decades and have now erupted into the mainstream.

Ideas once considered fringe have become been accepted by millions and by elites: indeed, nearly all GOP American presidential candidates have dismissed the science as not merely flawed, but “a myth” and hoax (see above).

This is conspiracy culture bursting into the mainstream and shaping the politics of a super power. 

As scholars of conspiracy culture have warned for decades now, such wide-scale adoption of conspiracy culture has the potential to distort the political process.

Indeed, the lamentable state of the climate change debate and the continuing rejection of the science by sections of the public and conservative political elites could possibly be traced to a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories and their currency in what is often called the “culture war”.

Thus the Michelle Bachmann’s and Sarah Palins of the world – the ultra-religious conservative American politicians both touted as possible Presidential candidates – noted for their rejection of climate change, evolution and embrace of free markets are not an aberration.

They are the products of a specific culture, part of which embraces and extols conspiracy theories and the rejection of certain forms of knowledge as the product of “satanic forces” that must be both refuted and countered.

Introductory and general texts

The following introductory texts are a good as place to start as any.

A culture of conspiracy: apocalyptic visions in contemporary America by Michael Barkun – Barkun provides a useful framework for understanding conspiracy culture: the different types of conspiracies; how conspiracy theorists are attracted to “stigmatized” knowledge”; and the strong association between right-wing popularism and “new world order” paranoia. Personally, this is my favoured text.

Enemies within: the culture of conspiracy within modern America by Robert Alan Goldberg – Another favourite text of mine, Goldberg’s text clearly demonstrates conspiracy culture is nothing new to American politics: indeed, the argument could be made that it has always been part of politics and not an aberration of the political process.

We tend to see the likes of the Tea Party, the hysterical paranoia of Glenn Beck, Birthers and Truthers as something new: the fact is every decade spawns a new class of conspiracy theorists in response to political and world events.

It was inevitable – indeed, it should have been foreseen – that conspiracy theorists would react to climate change and filter it through pre-existing conspiracy theories.

The following text provides context and the long history of conspiracy theories and how they have shaped politics:

Real enemies: conspiracy theories and American democracy, World War 1 to 9/11 by Kathryn Olmsted – This text really helped my understanding that every decade conspiracy theories are reborn and repurposed to soothe the anxieties of the time. Did you know that prior to World War 2 significant sections of the Republican Party believed President Roosevelt was a secret socialist who intended to establish a dictatorship by expanding the Federal government to such an extent it would control every aspect of the individual’s life?

Reading such works was illuminating, especially the parallels with conspiracy theories that have wide currency at the moment. Indeed, it was surprising to find that in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor right-wing conservatives started theorising the President allowed the Japanese to attack as a pretext to usher in a fascist regime – a variation of the false flag theory.

Sound familiar?

The truth is out there: the role of the media and popular culture

Both the internet and popular culture have been critical in shaping conspiracy culture (and vice versa). This will be explored more fully but a good place to start is here:

Conspiracy theory in film, television and politics by Gordon B. Arnold – This is a terrific primer on how popular culture has influenced and shaped conspiracy culture. Starting with how Hollywood responded to the “reds under the bed” paranoia of the 1950s it traces the evolution of conspiracy themes in film and television until the early twenty-first century.

Arnold’s book makes a strong case for the idea that fringe conspiracy beliefs were “mainstreamed” by the media and made more palatable to a general audience. Perhaps we see this mainstreaming of “conspiracy ideation” manifesting itself in the large numbers of people who believe Obama was not born in the United States or 9/11 was an “inside job”.

We live in a culture in which new conspiracy theories are ripe for adoption by the public and even members of the political, media and business classes. But there is more to this than an overabundance of conspiracy theories wrapped up in entertaining movies and shows such as “The X-Files”.

We also need to consider the rise of right-wing popularism.

Strange bedfellows: the emergence of right-wing-popularism and its fusion with climate scepticism

The roots of the “culture war” can be seen in the rise of right-wing movements who have sought to wind back the role of government, implement “market solutions” and return society to “traditional values” – what I have tentatively been referring to as neo-fundamentalism (to distinguish it from neo-liberalism).

Thus understanding the emergence of what is referred to as right-wing popularism (RWP) and how this may have impacted the climate change debate is critical.

This broad-based “movement” was the product of the cold war paranoia about socialism and a reaction to globalisation, the civil, women’s and gay rights movements and the massive cultural and societal changes of the past decades. One can also see it the emergence of the “moral majority” and strident evangelical strain of religion in the US and other parts of the globe.

I’d recommend the following text that to help decode the messages and arguments (while tracing the history) of the radical right and the seemingly impossible contradictions of their arguments and world views:

Right-wing popularism in America: too close for comfort by Chip BerlotThis is a must read in any attempt to understand contemporary politics in America – from libertarians to fundamentalists, the rise of the right-wing is charted brilliantly.

Belort makes the argument – forcefully and correctly I believe – that for the past 60 years the extremist and radical fringe within the US (I would argue Australia to a lessor extent) has sought to capture the conservative movement while pushing their radical agenda of libertarian economics, social conservatism and religiosity.

As the issue of climate change “heated up”, a popularist and conservative reaction to the perceived regulatory and cultural changes also came into being.

The threat of more regulation, arguments for less consumption and the necessity of global agreements literally terrified the conservatives and those with a right-wing predisposition – it fuelled their fear of New World Orders, reds under the beds and wind farms as agents of disease.

More discussion on this to come… enjoy the those texts if you get a chance.

The next posts will explore conspiracy culture a little more and make the argument that climate sceptics see themselves as the “saviours” of science and traditional values, and are engaged in what one could call “counter-subversion” angainst “the enemy within”.

Climate deniers: making the world safe from bankers? (guest post)

Tim at New Anthropocene has posted an article exploring the strange nexus between conspiracy culture, belief and climate change denial. It is a good extension of some of the conversation that has been focussed on conspiracy ideation.  It is part of the growing awareness that parts of the climate change “sceptic” movement employ motifs and tropes typical of conspiracy culture, some of which extend back decades. Enjoy, Mike @ WtD.

In rejecting evidence contrary to ones values we’re left with an obvious question; what is it about the value that leaves it immune to reasoning?

In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris provides such an answer to religious conviction with a fear of death. As discussed in my previous post, this clearly spills into other subjects, such as evolution and climate change, which ultimately question a given doctrine adhered to by an individual. Without meaning to, by challenging the creation myth or omnipotence of a super being (in controlling our climate), we bring the theology into question and with it, one’s immortality. It’s simply unquestionable to such people.

On the other hand, what can we make of the mantra of people like Dr David Evans and Christopher Monckton (associated and apparently shared views with The Galileo Movement)? An outline of this was spotted by Mike at WtD and highlighted in the post, A cabal of bankers and Sister Souljah: Lewandowsky versus the extreme sceptic fringe. I suggest you read through the full article, but for the sake of this post, I’ll mention a few key features.

Basically, dating back to the Middle Ages, there has been a developing class of invisible people growing rich on making money out of thin air, leading us down a path of endless debt to this secret group, siphoned from communities via taxes and interest (bared on, money imagined into existence). It gets weirder in that this invisible enemy is working to develop a single world government that one gets the impression would be oppressive.

Even involuntary commitments, such as only being able to purchase high-efficiency light globes (I suspect fluoridation of drinking water as well – especially if it’s deemed to be costing us) are taken as evidence of the build-up to this new government. Nova provides a caricature of these fears (which she obviously shares).

It reads like Hubbard’s Dianetics.

This doctrine, like its religious counterparts, is far older than the “debate” over climate change and is not really focused on the science of climate change at all (ie. it’s more about the use of fuel to power their dreams and taxes that propose to restrict climate change – the scientific evidence is just a victim to all this). It is an extremely conservative ideology, manifesting its own boogiemen to drawn the necessary conclusions. It justifies (and indeed, exaggerates) a core conservative value: individualism. As Sam Harris puts it in Free Will;

“Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse…

“And yet, living in America, one gets the distinct sense that if certain conservatives were asked why they weren’t born with club feet or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments.”

Now, to bring this back to the opening point; what is it about this ideology that leads one to reject compelling contrary evidence? I suspect the principles of individualism ultimately let such people down and they need a scapegoat.

To return to the Harris quote, such individuals believe beyond all doubt, that it is the individual alone that is responsible for their successes and failures in life. We of course tend to far more easily acknowledge our personal successes than the shortcomings of our actions. In the case of extreme conservatives, the only thing that ought to stand between themselves and the riches they can obtain (or deserve) is, well, themself. Why then, are they not rich/powerful/etc?

It is those who “steal” their money – the banks and governments. It is the “powerful” (which, in most cases, doesn’t seem to stretch to the CEO’s and players on Wall Street within this ideologies – rather, such people are the example they wish to emulate) to blame.

Accepting the compelling evidence against reckless resource exploitation and climate change leads to changes in behaviour necessary to ensure increased sustainability into the distant future (and look how this is portrayed in Nova’s caricature). This ignores the core principles of individualism while amplifying the fears that governments and bankers are out to take your hard-earned money.

Just as with the religiously minded who hears you challenge their doctrine when confronted with conflicting evidence, these extreme conservatives hear mindless puppets to a secret world order, threatening their way of life; their pursuit of personal wealth. It also touches on a sensitive nerve already imbedded to explain their failed attempts to emulate their heroes of success.

It would explain the venomous behaviour we encounter in such “debates” and the overall tone of works, such as Nova’s second handbook.

The only course of action, I suspect is, firstly, keep your distance. Secondly, ask questions (as mentioned in the previous post). Questions such as, “Who is behind the multigenerational “hoax” of climate change?” or “What hard evidence do you have of this secret banker society, their desire for a new world government and involvement with climate change?” or “Why have they been hiding for more than 500 years, waiting to take over – surely they could have in the great depression or at countless other times in history – why wait so long in hiding?”

Nut it out – dig into the rabbit whole. By exposing it to the light, one would hope they would start to see the many unanswerable questions to their ideology – the great lengths they go to make it fit reality. They may start to feel a little silly with the increasingly odd conclusions they have to draw (again, I direct you back to the post at WtD for a more detailed look at it).

The thing to remember is that you’re not arguing with such people over the validity of the scientific evidence regarding climate change. You’re nowhere near it. For that reason, you need to aim the conversation instead to what it really in question; how valid is the idea of hidden bankers out to take over the world?

The “faith “of conservatives and climate change: values and world views in conflict – god, free markets and denial

Another great post from fellow blogger Mothincarnate about how we see the world, and what drives our acceptance or rejection of science.

Moth and I have been discussing the concept of “neo-fundamentalism“, a tentative way to describe the blending of religiosity, the denial of science and “faith” in free markets that seems to pervade aspects of the conservative movement in the United States and to a lessor extent Australia. It includes the following trends:

  • a conservative Christian world view (not just Evangelical)
  • motivated and with a large supporter base that straddles class/education divides
  • dismissive of science such as AGW, stem cells and evolution
  • dismissive of expertise and expert opinion in contradiction to core values
  • dismissive of government (small or big), equating it with socialism
  • free market advocates
  • socially conservative: hostile to the expanding ethical circle that includes gays, minorities, secularists
  • willingness to embrace aspects of the conspiracy culture to explain failures or limits to action

It is an admittedly clumsy approach to trying to capture, or muse upon, broader social and political trends. Readers are welcome to comment.

See his post below.

Imposing Meaning: The Conflict Between Ideologies Masked as Reasoned Debate

Light in the absence of eyes, illuminates nothing. Visible forms are not inherent in the world, but are granted by the act of seeing. Events contain no meaning in themselves, only the meaning the mind imposes on them. Yet, the world endures…

As a teenager, I was obsessed with the animated series Æon Flux. The above is part of a quote that opened episode 5 of season 3, where Trevor Goodchild was having a ‘Hamlet moment’. It has been changed in a more recent release of the series.

It has stuck with me for close to twenty years now. Memorised. Hardwired.

Musing over it today, I see it differently than I did as a teenager. Perhaps less moved, but still as thought provoking.

While meaningful to the state of mind of the character, it is at once an illustration of the human ego and also desperately fatalistic.

Visible light is but a small region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some species, take for instance certain bee species, can see wavelengths outside this range. Perhaps on a much grander scale, infrared plays more influence over the universe…

More importantly, in reflecting the meaning of events, we hit the fatalistic note. It’s the mind that imposes meaning. Well, of course it is.

Meaning is, after all, the way a self-aware entity makes sense of the information it receives about the known universe surrounding it. Meaning is as important to the self-aware entity as is itself. It has to be. One cannot be self-aware without assigning meaning to the information that bombards for it is that information which leads to the persistence of the self-awareness (ie. staying alive).

This is an important note to my recent posts on values and science. The separation of personal values and scientific certainty is clearly an illusion, based on an impersonal (and functionally impractical) philosophy. All information that reaches each one of us must contain both objective and subjective meaning or else it would be rejected as meaningless. This seems a no-brainer, but in practice, we do separate meaning into pigeon holes as though there were functionally different categories, which in practice, there clearly are not.

I’d like to thank the author of Climate and Stuff for the post, Good God! This is realy scary stuff. In the post, the author highlights some of the points of the declaration on global warming from the Cornwall Alliance. While no surprises are to be found, they deserve reflection by anyone interested in the communication of increasing scientific certainty.

Here are a couple worth pointing out;

What we believe

1) We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.  Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

What we deny

1) We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

Points 2 – 5 are also worthy of reflection and debate, however as they are hinged on these two points of belief and denial (I thank them for using that word) and are points rebutted elsewhere, at great length, I won’t bother here.

The first thing to note here is that the points quoted are clearly wrong. A casual look into species abundance over the industrial era demonstrates ecosystems are not robust, suited for human flourishing, they are self-evidently fragile to outside impacts, such as human induced degradation. So much so that Rockström et al (2009) places biodiversity loss as significantly more impacted by human activity than climate change, ocean acidity and a host of other variables. Left to their own devices, with ample range and resources, it has been demonstrated that ecosystems can be resilient (Fischer et al 2006), but this remains contradictory to the rest of the statements being made.

The core value being address in this declaration is that the earth and ecosystems are “created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence”. This is the meaning that many minds have imposed on the information they received.

Directly, it has nothing to do with climate change or biodiversity loss, but simply that the world is our divine playground in which we can do no wrong. Thus, errors such as those I’ve pointed out above miss the point of the declaration entirely. To say as much or to point out that “minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry” relates to more than 10 gigatonnes additional CO2 per year and can only be considered “miniscule” if unfairly balanced against Nitrogen and Oxygen (both of which play no role in the greenhouse effect) is translated to, “you are wrong about your core value; that is, your god”.

I am not certain about my reader, but I’m not here to challenge the religious faiths of other people. They can choose to believe any ancient mythology of their choosing. However, I don’t want their beliefs to be shoved onto me. Here is a clear example of faith based values doing just that; through the continuing paralysis on both biodiversity loss and climate change I am party to ideologies that amount to, “she’ll be right – God’s looking after us.”

I find such apparent dependency (assuming there is a god looking after us) infantile and degrading, especially when it is obvious the Raphus cucullatus (Dodo), the Thylacinus cynocephalus (Thylacine) and Rheobatrachus silus (Gastric-brooding frog) among others as well as the difference in ambient conditions between the earth and her satellite all stand as evidence to the contrary.

Hence such musings have not only exposed the core values of people such as those of the Cornwell Alliance, but also my own. At the root, I cannot help but feel I am being asked to relinquish a sense of control – thus meaning – to my life. I’m being asked to take a leap of faith that common-sense tells me is a bad move.

It’s easy to see how quickly such discussions can go astray.

While we may be addressing the science, in reality, we’ve walked into a debate over ideologies; in the meaning the mind imposes on events. How we avoid this, when such groups as the Cornwell Alliance explicitly thread their theology to certain views of the world (such as climate change and biodiversity loss), remains to be seen.

Personally, I won’t hold my breath on a superpower saving us from ourselves. I just can’t do it. History is too full of plague, famine, extinction and hardship that I can’t take solace in a higher force whom, we are told, sides with the victors. Likewise, in weaving their core values to a certain way of seeing the world,* it seems clear that such people are equally unlikely to budge.

So what remains? My suggestion would be to question. “What real world evidence do you have that ecosystems are robust and self-correcting?” or “How does extinction fit into this?” or “Climate has indeed changed over the millennia – but it has been too cold and too hot to support human life in a way that “flourishes” today, what if this occurs again?” for instance.

You would be unlikely to change their minds, true, but maybe, just maybe, the cracks might start forming between the evidence available and the contradictory meaning already imposed. Hopefully, at the very least, the poor marriage between the evidence and certain ideologies may lead groups such as the Cornwell Alliance to unpick the threads they’ve sowed between the two.  Maybe they will find a better match with governance – good stewardship of a wonderful world – as a divine practice over unquestioning dependence.

Who knows? It couldn’t hurt to try.

_________

*The Cornwell Alliance lists a number of signers with a scientific background. I have to admit, I feel the science teachers of these signers failed them. The most important lesson one should be taught in science is to be plastic with the evidence. We all have pet hypotheses, but all too often they eventually crash and burn. Even Newtonian physics can only go so far – falling to pieces on the very small or very fast scales. For a scientist to sign a declaration stating that the universe is set in one way, perfectly definable today, represents a lapse of understanding, that will look as silly in retrospect as a similar historical document would regarding the flatness of the earth or pivotal (and unchanging) position of the earth in space.

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