Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Totalities of Copenhagen: Global warming and the psychology of true belief by Bret Stephens

This opinion piece by Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal touches on what he calls the “totalitarian impulse” of those who feel humans cause global warming. While I wouldn’t argue that everyone who falls into this camp suffer from this impulse I do believe it is evident among the intellectual leaders of this movement. I have extracted some key wording from Stephens’ article. I encourage you to check out the original essay.

Last week, I suggested that funding flows had much to do with climate alarmism. But deeper things are at work as well.

One of those things, I suspect, is what I would call the totalitarian impulse. This is not to say that global warming true believers are closet Stalinists. But their intellectual methods are instructively similar. Consider:

Revolutionary fervor:There's a distinct tendency among climate alarmists toward uncompromising radicalism, a hatred of "bourgeois" values, a disgust with democratic practices. So President Obama wants to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 83% from current levels by 2050, levels not seen since the 1870s—in effect, the Industrial Revolution in reverse. …

Utopianism: In the world as it is, climate alarmists see humanity hurtling toward certain doom. In the world as it might be, humanity has seen the light and changed its patterns of behavior, becoming the green equivalent of the Soviet "new man."

• Anti-humanism: … The U.N. Population Fund complains in a recent report that "no human is genuinely 'carbon neutral'"—its latest argument against children. John Holdren, President Obama's science adviser, cut his teeth in the policy world as an overpopulation obsessive worried about global cooling. But whether warming or cooling, the problem for the climate alarmists, as for other totalitarians, always seems to boil down to the human race itself.

• Intolerance: Why did the scientists at the heart of Climategate go to such lengths to hide or massage the data if truth needs no defense? Why launch campaigns of obstruction and vilification against gadfly Canadian researchers Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick if they were such intellectual laughingstocks? It is the unvarying habit of the totalitarian mind to treat any manner of disagreement as prima facie evidence of bad faith and treason.

Monocausalism: … [G]lobal warming has become the fill-in-the-blank explanation for whatever happens to be the problem.

• Indifference to evidence: Climate alarmists have become brilliantly adept at changing their terms to suit their convenience. So it's "global warming" when there's a heat wave, but it's "climate change" when there's a cold snap. …

• Grandiosity: In "SuperFreakonomics," Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner give favorable treatment to an idea to cool the earth by pumping sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, something that could be done cheaply and quickly. Maybe it would work, or maybe it wouldn't. But one suspects that the main reason the chapter was the subject of hysterical criticism is that it didn't propose to deal with global warming by re-engineering the world economy. The penchant for monumentalism is yet another constant feature of the totalitarian mind.

Today, of course, the very idea of totalitarianism is considered passé. Yet the course of the 20th century was defined by totalitarian regimes, and it would be dangerous to assume that the habits of mind that sustained them have vanished into the mists. In Copenhagen, they are once again at play—and that, comrades, is no accident.

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