The sociology of the climate change debate

John Quiggin and other vigilant bloggers swarmed on this climate change ‘denialist’ article by American historian Arthur Herman, who was in Australia recently as a guest of the CIS (to talk about the Enlightenment rather than climate change).

Quiggin argues that ‘just about everyone on the political right [has signed] up to a set of beliefs that are dictated entirely by political tribalism’.

This is a little tough but tribalistic explanations surely explain much – on both sides of the debate. Very few people are in any position to assess the science, and so the issue has to be judged via various heuristics, such as expert views, personal observation and experience (a long drought), and the views of other members of one’s social group. These heuristics help explain why an emissions trading scheme has majority support despite minimal public knowledge of even what it is, much less an informed personal assessment of whether or not it is likely to work.

It would not have been hard to guess what preconceptions someone like Arthur Herman would bring to this issue. In the 1990s he published a book called The Idea of Decline in Western History, which gives us 400 pages of prophets of doom before it even gets to environventalism. To Herman, the climate change apocalyptics must look like just another in a long line of doomsayers, with the same (minimal) prospects of being proven right.
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