NPR ran a piece today about the apparent paradox that as "scientists" become more convinced that climate change is real, man-made, and catastrophic, the global public is shrugging its shoulders.
In a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, climate comes in dead last, No. 20 of the 20 big issues of concern to America.
As former Sen. Tim Wirth, who calls for massive, transformative responses to global warming, puts it:
"I don't think any place in the world would you find the public demanding [climate legislation]. I think it's very hard to see the public demand anything. That's very rare."
NPR puzzled over the lack of concern from you, me, and the Chinese factory worker. What might explain the lack of a sense of urgency? Well, ClimateGate ain't helping. And then there's all that money from Big Carbon, which is reinforcing doubts that warming is either occuring as rapidly as doomsayers claim and underscores the economic consequences of say, reducing carbon emissions per capita back to what they were in 1875.
As a talking head put it during the segment, "It's the economy, stupid": Because of the crap economy, goes this line of thinking, economic concerns are paramount. Eh, mebbe. But that doesn't explain why expert opinion ranks the combating of global warming equally low on the totem pole of holier-than-thou causes. Hence, the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus, a group of eight economists organized by "skeptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg, prioritized 30 ways to improve life on Earth for the poor via cost-benefit analysis of all sorts of activities. Fighting man-made global warming came in 30th out of 30 after the analysts found "that spending $800 billion until 2100 would yield just $685 billion in climate change benefits."
Needless to say, NPR didn't talk to anyone from the Copenhagen Consensus. Instead, they offered a really fascinating way to explain the lack of mass interest in reducing global warming. The reason, the story suggests, is that we just can't handle the truth:
[Whitman College's Kari Marie] Norgaard studied this shift in public opinion and found that as people start to feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, they simply turn away from the topic. It's a form of denial, she says.
"We just don't want to know about it, so we are actively distancing ourselves from it or trying to protect ourselves from it."
That implies that some of the swing in public opinion can actually be explained as a reaction to growing public awareness of the issue, like Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, or the 2007 United Nations science report.
Let me suggest a counter-narrative: Americans are rightly skeptical not of climate change per se, but of obviously politicized areas of science. We thankfully do not live in a world of lab-coat-wearing experts who dictate the Truth to us anymore. Any number of bogus scientific discoveries has cured us of such faith and so has decades of politicians lying to us about everything from the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the meaning of the word is to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the pressing need for the feds to run GM. This sort of doubt has added support to what Ron Bailey has called "policy nihilism," a very rational belief that policies designed to mitigate climate change will be far, far worse than simply dealing with changed climates. As Bailey puts it
The transaction costs associated with addressing man-made global warming may turn out to be prohibitively high. In other words, the benefits achieved from trying to mitigate global warming will be swamped by the costs of distributing the corporate welfare used to buy the political acquiescence of various industries. You might hope to implement good public policy to deal with a problem, but if good public policy is impossible, policy nihilism is the more rational response.
Think about it, NPR listeners (or, better yet, NPR editors and journos): Climate-change activists aver that the very fate of the planet is at stake. And they call for a hurry-up offense on a set of plans that will by their own admission restructure every aspect of life on the Big Blue Marble. We don't have all the answers but the time for action is now! Think of TARP. Think of the Patriot Act. Has there ever been a time outside of a used-car lot where those sorts of high-pressure tactics are taken seriously? I don't think so. That the public is slow to action may just be a sign that it knows what it's doing, not that it's scared shitless by Al Gore's inconvenient exaggerations.