A new analysis of survey data finds:
The more Democrats think they know about global warming, the more concerned they are. But Republicans who consider themselves well informed on the topic seem no more worried than those who profess ignorance, a study suggests.
What’s going on? Here’s my one-sentence diagnosis: Democrats are more likely to be moral relativists and epistemological realists; Republicans are more likely to be the opposite.
The base of the right is united by fealty to a thick set of cultural norms, habits, and values. They view that way of life as superior and correct. On one side it is vouchsafed by the Judeo-Christian God; on the other, by Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and Ayn Rand. There is Us, who live and defend this way of life, and Them, who work against it. There is no source of knowledge that transcends Us and Them — that’s what relativism means. There is Our truth and Theirs. Mainstream scientists and experts, when they reach conclusions in tension with Our Way of Life, are revealed as part of a cultural elite that disdains People Like Us. Their objectivity and empirical rigor are mere pretense for a leftist agenda.
What contemporary culture adds to this blend of moral absolutism and epistemological relativism is a rich set of cognitive tools to reinforce it. It is possible in the information age to construct a hermetically sealed, full-featured media universe, a seamless mix of television and radio stations, magazines, newspapers, and DVDs devoted to reinforcing the in-group worldview. They even have their own encyclopedia. They have their own reality, their own facts.
So there is a substantial number of Republicans for whom “well informed on the topic” of climate change means that they have learned the set of facts propagated in the conservative media universe, where hundreds of scientists don’t believe in climate change and new studies reveal every day that the ice isn’t melting, the temperature isn’t warming, the polar bears aren’t in danger, and sunspots are … doing whatever it is they think sunspots do. Oh, and reducing fossil fuel use means economic ruin.
They have their scientists; you have yours. They have their facts; you have yours. There is no fact of the matter, only a moral battle being fought with whatever weapons are currently in vogue. In their world, they are not concerned because they are well-informed.