The Climate Change Culture War

May 1 2013 @ 2:37pm

Tim McDonnell ponders the results of a new study that gave liberals and conservatives the choice between conventional light bulbs and the more energy-efficient compact fluorescents:

Both bulbs were labeled with basic hard data on their energy use, but without a translation of that into climate pros and cons. When the bulbs cost the same, and even when the CFL cost more, conservatives and liberals were equally likely to buy the efficient bulb. But slap a message on the CFL’s packaging that says “Protect the Environment,” and “we saw a significant drop-off in more politically moderates and conservatives choosing that option,” said study author Dena Gromet, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

… Gromet said she never expected the green message to motivate conservatives, but was surprised to find that it could in fact repel them from making a purchase even while they found other aspects, like saving cash on their power bills, attractive. The reason, she thinks, is that given the political polarization of the climate change debate, environmental activism is so frowned upon by those on the right that they’ll do anything to keep themselves distanced from it.

This is really a form of tribal nihilism. One party has become entirely about a posture, not a set of feasible policies. I can see no reason whatever that conservatism must mean destroying the environment – or refusing to do even small ameliorative things that can help. There should be a robust conservative critique of liberal approaches to climate change, but the point is to get a better grip on slowing that change and more effectively protecting the environment by conservative ideas and principles. Snark is not a policy, although it may be a successful talk radio gimmick.

The trouble is that the talk radio gimmickry now defines an entire political party. Kevin Drum sighs:

On the right, both climate change and questions about global limits on oil production have exited the realm of empirical debate and become full-blown fronts in the culture wars. You’re required to mock them regardless of whether it makes any sense. And it’s weird as hell. I mean, why would you disparage development of renewable energy? If humans are the ultimate creators, why not create innovative new sources of renewable energy instead of digging up every last fluid ounce of oil on the planet?

I can remember when even Glenn Reynolds wanted an all-of-the-above approach to tackle climate change because energy innovation was a no-brainer, even if it didn’t always work out.