Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Climate centrism is just another form of denial

More than a year after Naomi Klein published her bestselling This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Jonathan Chait has gotten around to posting some hilariously belated criticism. I'm not going to link to it - instead, read Ryan Cooper's decisive rebuttal in The Week, which walks through the basic science and policy issues with admirable patience and clarity.

It's Cooper's patience that I find most striking, because when I read through this article I can't help but notice that this is the exact same argument we've been having with climate change deniers for years. The right's denialism has rarely been absolute. House Republicans and AM radio demagogues may gleefully insist that it's actually getting colder every time we have a blizzard, but for the most part the political opposition has relied on two basic claims:
  1. Climate change is not an urgent problem. Invariably, the ostensibly respectable opposition has tried to claim the moderate ground by conceding that climate change is happening - but that it's simply not as urgent as the "alarmists" claim. Their typical position is that climate change is a cyclical process that proceeds gradually over millions of years. This is actually more coherent than Chait's position, which is that predictions placing the tipping point within a matter of decades are "alarmist" - for reasons that he never bothers to actually specify. Both, in any case, are at odds with the same clear and uncontroversial evidence.
  2. The technological solutions to climate change and their implementation are within timely reach of the market. The Republican variation on this position does not bother with any analysis of the rate and capacity of technological innovation, but simply assumes that a magic solution to fix climate change will appear when the time comes because capitalism. Chait (probably) has some basic understanding of what we can expect from technology within predictable market conditions, but because he underestimates the urgency of the problem (1) he overestimates the ability of tech within the market to deal with it. This point is crucial, because scientists (who are generally not economic radicals) mostly share Chait's views about the market and technology; but because they differ on the magnitude of the problem, they're arriving at drastically different conclusions.
So what this comes down to, as it always has, is whether or not we take climate science seriously. If we do, then our understanding of climate change dictates quite strictly how much time we have and what solutions are available. Like the right, Chait can only get out of this by denying objective and uncontroversial points of scientific fact.

In fact, as far as I can tell, the major difference seems to be that while the right has by now an extremely elaborate apparatus of rationalizations for denying climate change, and a massive culture of indoctrination that pressures them into accepting these rationalizations - while all of that is happening, centrist deniers seem to be relying on nothing more than their instinctive aversion to radical prescriptions. Chait doesn't offer any particular reason to be skeptical of the science, and indeed doesn't challenge it at all; as far as I can tell, he may even think that climate scientists are on his side, which actually makes him more ignorant than the deniers who think that scientists are lying to them.

Regardless, there is really no reason to think of Chait and his climate centrist colleagues as any better informed or any more committed to science that their right-wing counterparts. They're both in denial, and they're both equally dangerous.