You can indeed fool some of the people all the time — if those people are conservatives.
Rasmussen Reports made headlines last month reporting that 41 percent of Americans blame global warming on human activity, down from 46 percent, two years ago. The conservative pollster gleefully noted:
Al Gore’s side may be coming to power in Washington, but they appear to be losing the battle on the idea that humans are to blame for global warming.
It is, however, the details of the poll that are the most telling. In January 2009:
Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democrats blame global warming on human activity, compared to 21% percent of Republicans. Two-thirds of GOP voters (67%) see long-term planetary trends as the cause versus 23% of Democrats.
This compares to December 2006 result:
Fifty-six percent (56%) of Democrats say human activity is the cause while 51% of Republicans identify long-term planetary trends as the culprit.
That’s right. Slightly more Democrats now understand that humans are the primary cause of global warming, whereas substantially more GOP voters — a full one-sixth — have been duped into thinking long-term planetary trends are the cause.
Why the growing divergence?
First, people naturally tend to believe those who share their political views, and it is primarily conservatives and conservative media outlets who run the disinformation campaign. There is now a “full court press” from deniers, as one reader emailed me.
And who can really be surprised by these findings when a Rasmussen polls from just last week found:
The plurality of GOP voters (43%) say their party has been too moderate over the past eight years, and 55% think it should become more like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in the future.
I take it as a good sign that Democrats’ understanding of the science has grown a little even in the face of deniers aggressively pushing the “global cooling” lie and the generally lame media coverage of the issue (see here and here). Progressives’ views are aligned with the science and will inevitably strengthen over time.
But how can GOP voters be moved when they are increasingly distrustful of scientists? As I noted in a September post:
A significant and growing number of Republicans — one in eight as of 2008 — simply don’t believe what they know most scientists believe.
Let me end with the discussion from my post, “The deniers are winning, especially with the GOP,” of a year ago.
According to the United States Office of Strategic Services, Hitler’s strategy was based on the view:
… people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
In fact, Hitler himself defined the term “Big Lie,” in his autobiography Mein Kempf, as:
a lie so “collosal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
I don’t think this useful term should be a banned from public use just because Hitler defined it first. I certainly apologize to anybody who is upset by the analogy — I’m not trying to compare deniers with Nazis — there is no such comparison possible — nor does it apply to all of the people who advocate one of the six myths below. No, the “Big Lie” refers mostly to the strategy of the professional class of those who spread disinformation for a living.
I do think the term gets to a fundamental reason why global warming denial is so effective. The science has now become unequivocally clear that the health and well-being of billions of people (and most species) are at grave risk from continued unrestricted human emissions of greenhouse gases (See the Hadley Center’s prediction and NOAA’s study).
But who could possibly believe that so many credible-sounding people, including major public leaders in the conservative movement, would so strongly argue:
- The earth is not warming and/or
- Humans are not a major cause of whatever warming is occurring and/or
- The problem is not an urgent one because the impacts are distant and tolerable and/or
- The solution is painful if not impossible with existing technologies anyway and/or
- Adaptation is a better strategy than mitigation and/or
- It’s just too damn late!
It is hard to believe — indeed it is almost impossible to believe.
And it has proven almost impossible for the traditional media to deal with.
When I last wrote on this I said, “I don’t have any easy answers to offer in this post. Shaming the traditional media doesn’t seem to work because they are mostly shameless — indeed the vast majority of journalists wear it as a badge of honor that they are criticized equally by ‘both sides’.”
There is in fact only one answer. The Obama team must devotes significant effort to undoing the disinformation and muzzling of the past eight years. No single institution drives more of the media coverage and framing of the major national issue than the White House and the executive branch experts on a subject. A 2007 report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded:
The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.
The Obama team must launch an equally systematic effort to get the truth out. As I wrote (here):
The Obama team needs to spend a considerable amount of time giving public speeches, holding informal meetings with key opinion makers, researching and publicizing major reports on the high cost of inaction and the relatively low cost of solutions.
I will elaborate on what such an effort might entail in a later post. But the Obama team might start by holding a series of press conferences starting in March to re-issue the four global warming impact studies Bush tried to bury in his final days.
This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.