Passionate intensity on climate change

Here’s something that’s been bugging me lately.

One issue that concerns me is man-made climate change. I have my own thoughts on its existence, but I’m not here to debate that right now.

Rather, what I’m curious about is why, exactly, those who aren’t convinced man-made climate change is happening are so goddamned ginned up about it? I can read any article about global warming on any news website and be assured, without even looking, that there will be swarms of the MMCC-unconvinced going on and on in the comments, to the point where it soon crosses the “protests to much, methinks” line.

The only equivalent hot button issue I can think of is abortion (the current astroturfed health care stuff aside). Now, I get where the vehemence comes from on abortion. The passion on both sides makes sense to me. But in my experience on the climate change issue, I’ve seen a lot more vehemence from those who refute man-made climate change than those who are convinced it’s happening.

Anyway, my question is this: what exactly is at stake here? What happens if we take steps to reduce emissions and so forth, even if–for the sake of argument–they’re not responsible for global warming?

If we reduce carbon emissions, we’ll have cleaner air in cities and, thus, improved health for all (and, by the by, spend less money on health care). If we reduce those emissions with cars that run on at least partially sustainable fuel sources, we’ll reduce our dependence on oil, which will do a number of things: minimize global conflicts, ameliorate whatever crisis will occur when oil reserves do dry up, oh, and hey, it might even help lower action figure prices.

So what’s at stake? Making sure the world is informed about what they’re perceiving as “cultish science”? There seems to me much worse and immediate threats than that–say, terrorism, or the declining U.S. educational system, or corporate control of politics, or eroding civil liberties.

Please tell me the concern here isn’t something like “preventing the alternative fuel industry from bilking us.” I mean, seriously–the oil industry and cartels have been screwing with us, and the world, for decades, and the money involved is several orders of magnitude larger than every cent that’s every been invested in alternative fuel.

Here’s my personal theory as to why people get so upset about global warming: they’re scared. Deep down, they’re absolutely terrified that something horrible is happening, and worse, they’re responsible for a little bit of it every time they turn the key in the ignition or flip on the A/C. And so they’ll not only jump on any bit of evidence to the contrary, but they’ll go crusading to prove their side, if only to assure themselves that not only are they perfectly safe, but they can continue doing everything they usually do, without changing their lives at all, and feel assured they’re not hurting the world (or themselves). Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that secretly, these people do think man-made climate change is happening; rather, I’m suggesting that part of them is afraid it might be and thus fuels their vehemence and obsessive pursuit of the issue. If I’ve ever noticed any sort of common denominator in this sort of behavior, it’s that there’s some sort of fear at the root of it.

I know this is something that’s happened to me. For instance, when I first read this post by former Ninja Turtles writer Steve Murphy, it made me both depressed and anxious, and I quickly went and read up on the whole permafrost-methane thing. And I’ll admit: I went looking for something to tell me it wasn’t as serious as Murphy was making it out to be (the answer, unfortunately, was to the effect of: we don’t know enough about it yet, but it could be really bad). But rather than deciding to deliberately seek out contrary evidence (no matter how spurious) to reassure me, I accepted it as a potential future risk and re-affirmed my support for seeking out alternative fuel sources and other ways to minimize any potential man-made contribution to global warming.

Now, I want to make clear that my intent is not to debate the existence of man-made global warming. I’m just curious as to why it seems to gin up so much vehemence. It just seems weird to me–what exactly do we have to lose by doing things like reducing reliance on oil or investing in alternative fuels? Losing jobs in the short-term while we move away from an oil-based economy? Folks, the unemployment–and general suffering–will be a lot worse if we just wait until the oil dries up.

The only other thing I can think of is that it’s popularly considered a “liberal” issue, and therefore anyone who considers themselves in diametric opposition to liberals sees it as one more thing to fight the good fight over. And that’s just sad.

  1. Mumma Ghostal left a comment on August 21, 2009 at 7:16 am

    I know that your personal theory put words to the way I feel-every time I start my car, let it idle because it’s so hot outside and I want to keep the AC on while wait/work in it, or the AC units we have in the house, or the stupid styrofoam cups I keep for the pug party, or every bag filled with trash…heck, I feel guilty when a hybrid passes me on the highway ( but not an Escalade hybrid!) When I read about the Antarctic ice shelf disappearing, I am almost too afraid to look for evidence that this is not happening and it is manipulative press. Of course, I grew up having Atom Bomb drills at school ( like getting under my desk was going to protect me…), the Cold War, Three Mile Island just months after my son was born, and now this….I’ve been afraid of something my whole life.

  2. I really believe it boils down that people don’t like change. If they accept a fact like the world is getting warmer then there’s a lot of change that needs to be made.

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