Republicans Can Understand Science and Still Deny Climate Change

Oct 9, 2016

By Robinson Meyer

The most hopeful news in Tuesday’s big Pew report on climate change and partisanship isn’t particularly uplifting, honestly. The research agency found that 70 percent of Americans believe that climate scientists should have a “major role” in the country’s climate and energy policy. This is roughly like 70 percent of Americans saying they believe seismologists should have a say in the nation’s earthquake policy.

And after that vote of support, confidence in the field drops off. Less than a third of Americans think climate scientists understand the causes of climate change very well. Less than a fifth think they understand the best ways to address it. But most Americans, across both parties, do credit climate scientists with at least a fair amount of confidence to act in the public interest.

These were all findings of the Pew Research Center’s 1,100-person poll of Americans on their feelings not just about climate change but on the whole bundle of climate and energy issues. The poll’s headline number is that 48 percent of Americans correctly understand the Earth to be warming due to human activity. This number has recovered to 2006 levels, when it stood at 50 percent. It fell below 40 percent following the election of Barack Obama.


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20 comments on “Republicans Can Understand Science and Still Deny Climate Change

  • This Pew report is excellent. The investigation of respondents science knowledge is very helpfull.

    I haven’t surveyed it all, but there seems an overly narrow assumption on motivations to support wind and solar given the few endorsing AGW as a fact. Wind and solar bring wealth generation to communities and individuals, they may bring new technology wealth to the country and sustainability is good for our kids.

    Whatever the reason, pluralistic Americans may well go in the right direction if you give them reasons (plural).



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  • @OP Title – Republicans Can Understand Science and Still Deny Climate Change

    Anyone can deny anything, if they refuse to look at the evidence, through ideological bigotry, self delusion based on perceived self interest, or on apathetic conservative lazy thinking, they refuse to recognise expert advice.



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  • The trouble is that the Republican party has become tribal to a degree that would make religions blush. To get what they want for the corporate masters who pay their bills, they had to form coalitions with various nuts and America is chock full of them. They made themselves the anti-abortion party (among other things) to rope in the Evangelicals. They made the opposition to any gun laws no matter how tepid part of their dogma to rope in the NRA red-neck crowd. They opposed universal health care to pull in those easily frightened by claims of losing their family doctor or the Obama “death squads.”

    To this they added their agendas to protect Big Oil (climate denial) and Big Pharma (the government shall not negotiate drug prices)among others. They threw in fear of government and regulations in general to further grease the way for corporate mischeif and wrapped it all in a small-government, no-taxes bow.

    This became their holy writ and deviation from any of it was blasphemy. Dissenters to any plank were derided with term “RINO” for Republican-in-Name-Only and shunned. If they were politicians, people like the Brothers Koch or Sheldon Adelson would allocate some of their vast fortunes to see that RINOs were denied reelection- not by supporting Democrats but by killing them off in their own Republican primary races and replacing them with pols even more radically bound to the entire script. And so many of the US congressional districts have been so successfully gerrymandered, the primary is the only competitive race. It’s how they won and held the House with a substantial, unassailable majority despite losing the overall House voting by millions.

    So I doubt the will of the people will have any impact on climate policy. There is a whole list of things (like raising the minimum wage) that have overwhelming popular support, but the dogma of the tribe will stonewall them all and I can see nothing that will change that in whatever future is left to us.



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  • Judging by Trump, Pence, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Kaisch, Ryan, Inhoff and numerous other leading Republican politicians, they can’t or won’t understand science. I’ll bet they get upset when their i phones stop working, the car won’t start or when banana man, Ray Comfort, is their best hope of medical help !



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  • The major obstacle to public acceptance of “climate science” may have less to do with denial than with indifference to a vague process that apparently proceeds at a snails pace over the human lifetime. The dire warnings that sounded the alarm at meetings to draft the Kyoto Protocols have slipped almost 30 years into the past. Inadvertently climate scientists have dialed back public urgency to take concerted action on a global scale of economy by announcing that even the “experts” cannot predict when ubiquitous consequences will impact world populations or how severe those consequences will be. Understandably most ordinary people remain sanguine in the face of long-term predictions loaded with ambiguity.

    Understandably in an ethos of long-term apocalyptic prophecy, ordinary people prioritize coping with immediate daily tasks, projects and concerns accomplished within the current fossil fuel infrastructure rather than lose sleep over what may happen 30 to 50 years down the road. The hottest decade on record means little to rich and poor alike when the day-to-day weather seems to fall within the normal range. The result is indifference or ambivalence towards scientists who clear their throats and disclaim that they don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Aren’t scientists who do their jobs supposed to know exactly what will happen and when? Not many seriously worry about consigning global warming to the basement on their lists of concerns….for the time being.



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  • Fortunately some of us recognised the the problem 30 (and in my case 20) years ago. We started work on negawatts and renewables. Thats why millions of technologists are engaged now with more or less mature technology. It has taken decades.

    ordinary people prioritize

    Ordinary people have an IQ of 100. Half of us are less than this.

    long-term predictions loaded with ambiguity

    Yes but the ambiguity is not so much about timing as amplitude. It is the upper limit of the range of effects likely that promise a possibility of utter catastrophe.

    The major problem has been the (often inadvertent) prevaricators, now able to inject uninformed opinion into the news mix giving easy routes and excuses to ignore the risks to our own children.



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  • @Melvin #5
    “…a vague process that apparently proceeds at a snails pace over the human lifetime.”

    Urgent action is required immediately, including closing coal mines withing a decade. Conservative (Republicans/theists) diversionary tactics, such as the population crisis, deliberately disguise the urgency to act now.

    “scientists who clear their throats and disclaim that they don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Aren’t scientists who do their jobs supposed to know exactly what will happen and when”

    No Melvin. Conservatives (Republicans/Theists) require absolute certainty. Science doesn’t operate that way, being probabilistic in nature. The IPCC report number 5 stated 95% attribution confidence, up from the previous 90% level of certainty of their reporting. This translates to “most likely” but science won’t afford you with the absolute certainty you seem to need. Climate scientists haven’t “dialed back” their warnings of urgency.

    “climate scientists have dialed back public urgency…in the face of long-term predictions loaded with ambiguity…in an ethos of long-term apocalyptic prophecy”

    Prophesy is for Conservatives (Republicans/theists) and has no place in science. Conservative critics of space exploration demand a “guarantee” of safety for astronauts, prophesying gigantic associated costs, when their scientific illiteracy disqualifies them from announcing such an irrational prophesy.
    The mooted Mars mission is feasible for a minuscule percentage of your military budget for example, but it will still be risky for the astronauts.

    “…what may happen 30 to 50 years down the road.”

    This is classic Conservative (Republican) Denialism, which fails to grasp both the certainty and the urgency being expressed by climate scientists. Lack of absolute certainty can’t reasonably be dismissed as may happen down the road.”



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  • Melvin #5
    Oct 17, 2016 at 1:37 am

    The major obstacle to public acceptance of “climate science” may have less to do with denial than with indifference to a vague process that apparently proceeds at a snails pace over the human lifetime. The dire warnings that sounded the alarm at meetings to draft the Kyoto Protocols have slipped almost 30 years into the past.

    . . . Apart from in the places where they are hitting masses of people NOW!
    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/cop21-african-campaigners-demand-compensation-for-effects-of-global-warming-a6767221.html
    African campaigners are demanding compensation for the huge damage being inflicted on the continent by global warming – a problem that has been caused by the rich countries but will hit poor nations the hardest.

    As the United Nations summit to tackle climate change nears its conclusion, African politicians and NGOs are calling for the developed world to provide cash to help them deal with the consequences of a warming planet.

    Compensation should cover everything from storm damage and crop failure to desertification and forest degradation, the African nations say.

    The funds should also help meet the cost of the mass migration that is inevitable as huge areas become uninhabitable, as well as the rise in diseases such as malaria.

    Inadvertently climate scientists have dialed back public urgency to take concerted action on a global scale of economy

    That is nonsense!

    by announcing that even the “experts” cannot predict when ubiquitous consequences will impact world populations

    Climate scientists and the IPCC have gone to great pains to give probability ratings on their predictions. Devious muppets, have cherry-picked and widely quoted, the less certain ones!

    The timing issues would be because the timing depends on political decisions, levels of human co-operation, levels of obstructive denial, and which and when feed-back effects will be triggered.

    or how severe those consequences will be.

    Nope! That is what crappy posturing news-hounds and stooge politicians are writing.
    Scientists are quite clear as to the sorts of consequences there will be from rising sea-levels, reduced ice caps, powered-up storms, desertification of the tropics, a more energetic and mobile atmosphere, and bigger more extensive droughts and floods.

    Understandably most ordinary people remain sanguine in the face of long-term predictions loaded with ambiguity.

    Which translated into plain English says:-
    Many will sit in denial, because they have not looked at relevant information, are incapable of understanding it, have no idea who is giving them valid information, and they have been conned into mistrusting the work of honest and competent scientists, by paid propagandists and conspiracy theorists!

    Not many seriously worry about consigning global warming to the basement on their lists of concerns….for the time being.

    Many who live far removed from climate effects and food production, in over-protected first world environments, consign global warming to the basement on their lists of concerns, but the many of them also think food grows on supermarket shelves or in in restaurant kitchens fertilised by money!



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  • Melvin #5
    Oct 17, 2016 at 1:37 am

    The result is indifference or ambivalence towards scientists who clear their throats and disclaim that they don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

    Ah! Like a motor mechanic who tells foolish drivers heading out into a remote area, that if they don’t top up their engine oil, and fill up their fuel tanks, their cars are likely to run out of fuel and stop – if the engine does not seize up first! –

    Aren’t scientists who do their jobs supposed to know exactly what will happen and when?

    But hey! The motor mechanic has not told which of these will happen first or where or when exactly it will happen, so – take no notice –
    What do mechanics and engineers know about cars?

    They could not even tell the lead footed boy-racer if or how much sooner his car would stop than his more careful mate’s car!

    The mechanics guess about the EXACT place and TIME is no better than anyone else’s (allegedly)!!!! – No need to take any notice of “alarmist warnings”! – They are just trying to profit from selling oil and petrol!



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  • Here’s the thing. The science is simple. The science is sound. The science is correct.

    What we scientists can not ever seem to get past is that politics is based on bullshitting. It is an entire human endeavor based on our very very worst traits and abilities. These screaming shit mongers say “climate change is junk science”; but what they mean is “my profits far outstrip any bullshit harm done to the earth or my fellow men/women.”

    Do not get duped into thinking that this is limited to the GOP. They are just poster children for the heinous mistreatment of science in the name of profit. The other side of the aisle is dong the same fucking thing but just in other areas of offense.

    Politics needs to be curtailed and reeled in. Politicians need to face hard fucking time if they are mistreating or misrepresenting their constituency and the churches need to be taxed and taxed at a higher rate than private citizens of they pontificate policy from their pulpits. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.



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  • My comment is an observation about how the vast majority of people on the planet are thinking and behaving.
    I am not painting a target on myself with a bulls eye that reads scapegoat. It is human-animal nature to take care of oneself and those we care about even if the necessary steps involve “hurting” the environment in the process; contaminating soil, water or atmosphere. Building affordable housing for expanding populations takes precedence over “protecting” open spaces. Driving to work takes precedence over “hating” big oil companies. Tapping out rivers and aquifers for irrigation and human consumption takes precedence over preserving clean water supplies for future generations; clogging the oceans with plastic waste takes precedence over throwing one aluminum can into a recycle bin. No one seems to get why I’m so obsessed with population reduction. The human animal raging over every habitable corner of the earth has become, and will remain the fatal menace to a sustainable environment. We have met the enemy and he is us in our glorious duplicating billions.



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  • Melvin #11
    Oct 17, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    The human animal raging over every habitable corner of the earth has become, and will remain the fatal menace to a sustainable environment. We have met the enemy and he is us in our glorious duplicating billions.

    Which raises the question as to if humans can collectively behave with more intelligence than a yeast culture in a barrel of fruit juice – where the yeast exploits all there is to exploit, until there is nothing left to exploit, and it is then starved, pickled, and killed, in its own waste products!



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  • Alan, sometimes human arrogance dwarfs intelligence?
    If there were no money involved more people would accept global warming.
    It might be the tipping point in peoples decision making process.



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  • If there were no money involved….

    alf1200: If there was no money invoved in your life and the things ( a car?, a house?) money buys would your quality of life suffer?

    Human sins and virtues are joined at the hip and the heart. We can be kind and cruel, greedy and altruistic, arrogant an humble in the same moment. Our problems are not other people. We are all “other” people.



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  • Melvin #5
    Oct 17, 2016 at 1:37 am

    The result is indifference or ambivalence towards scientists who clear their throats and disclaim that they don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

    Aren’t scientists who do their jobs supposed to know exactly what will happen and when?

    Samsung engineers don’t know exactly why Galaxy Note 7 phones caused house fires and plane delays.

    http://www.theverge.com/2016/10/12/13254790/samsung-has-no-idea-why-the-note-7-keeps-catching-fire-nyt-claims

    Does that mean intelligent people should ignore the warnings they have been given, and just carry on using them for “business as usual?

    Science does not have all the answers to complex problems, or absolute certainty”, does not equate with, “Any fool can ignore warnings, and act on believing whatever they like, with impunity“!



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  • Alan4: “Does that mean intelligent people should ignore the warnings they have been given, and just carry on using them for “business as usual?”

    People, more or less intelligent, constitute 7.4 billion specimens on the planet with little frame of reference for the warnings you cite. They have access only to the technology and energy infrastructure in front of them.
    If they own a 1985 Toyota pickup to schlep their produce or wares to market, they won’t give a thought to its CO2 emissions as they go about their daily tasks. If their government delivered them a hybrid or EV version, they would gladly turn over the Toyota to be junked. “Business as usual” describes the way most people have to live in human society. Until affordable components of a near zero-emissions global energy regime are widely distributed under government pressure and market forces , people will give little thought to warnings and exhortations emanating from the sparks of popular media and intermittent political speeches.



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  • Melvin #16
    Oct 18, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    People, more or less intelligent, constitute 7.4 billion specimens on the planet with little frame of reference for the warnings you cite. They have access only to the technology and energy infrastructure in front of them.

    I know!
    Honestly and competently enforced regulations are required to prevent the stupid and greedy from causing disasters.
    That is why a proportion of those who persist in using the plethora of novel facilities on their new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones, will have their houses burning down, and why many people drown when over-loaded 3rd. world ferries capsize!
    http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1513&context=jpt

    Many countries in Southeast Asia, the African Great Lakes region, and elsewhere rely on ferries as a primary mode of transportation for people and goods, and accidents are frequent.
    This high rate of accidents and fatalities is linked to a number of causes, including substandard vessels, overcrowding, and a lack of training for emergency scenarios, as well as to more systemic issues such as inadequate support and/or corruption in the regulatory process.




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  • @Melvin #11 “No one seems to get why I’m so obsessed with population reduction.”

    Any attempted analysis by Conservatives (Republicans in the US, Liberals in Australia) is bound to lack perspective, as very few demonstrate any scientific literacy. Some have begun to tentatively accept “the vague process” of climate science but most continue to reject the need to act quickly. A “snails pace” will suffice. They imagine we have “30-50 years” to implement any radical change to the business as usual model.

    Delay is Denial, and it suits the agenda of the incumbent fossil fuel industry. Playing the victim while scapegoating scientists for their alleged ambiguity; vilifying them for “apocalyptic” scaremongering, appears to be a characteristic Conservative trait. They simply don’t “get” the urgency, nor do they appreciate that timely, decisive action is the most cost-effective solution. Mistakenly some believe that fewer humans can solve the problem, and some are “obsessed” by that irrational prevarication. Conservatives are obsessed with anxieties about others stealing a competitive advantage or consuming too much if they’re forced to act more rationally.



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  • Meanwhile, – on a brighter note -in the real world of science and commerce:-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37767250

    The International Energy Agency says that the world’s capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources has now overtaken coal.

    The IEA says in a new report that last year, renewables accounted for more than half of the increase in power capacity.

    The report says half a million solar panels were installed every day last year around the world.

    In China, it says, there were two wind turbines set up every hour.

    Renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydro are seen as a key element in international efforts to combat climate change.

    At this stage, it is the capacity to generate power that has overtaken coal, rather than the amount of electricity actually produced.

    Renewables are intermittent – they depend on the sun shining or the wind blowing, for example, unlike coal which can generate electricity 24 hours a day all year round.

    So renewable technologies inevitably generate a lot less than their capacity.

    Even so it is striking development.

    The IEA’s Executive Director Fatih Birol said “We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables”.

    The expansion of renewable capacity reflects cost reductions for onshore wind and solar panels that the report describes as impressive; reductions that would have been “unthinkable just five years ago”.

    The IEA expects the trend of declining costs to continue.

    Those two technologies are likely to account for three quarters of future growth in renewables.

    Hydropower will continue growing, the report says, but it is likely to do so more slowly than before.

    Declining costs are also one reason the agency has increased its forecast for renewable capacity in the future.



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