Politcs of Resentment: Climate Change Edition


It had been my understanding that Jonathan Chait wasn’t doing his column for The Los Angeles Times anymore, but this looks a lot like an insightful Jon Chait column about the right’s bizarre approach to global warming:

National Review magazine, with its popular website, is a perfect example. It has a blog dedicated to casting doubt on global warming, or solutions to global warming, or anybody who advocates a solution. Its title is “Planet Gore.” The psychology at work here is pretty clear: Your average conservative may not know anything about climate science, but conservatives do know they hate Al Gore. So, hold up Gore as a hate figure and conservatives will let that dictate their thinking on the issue.

Yes, right. Gore aside, it’s genuinely striking how much of conservative thinking about global warming seems to be driven purely by hatred of environmentalists. I can’t even say how often I think I’ve read the following sort of “logic” deployed in response to an environmentalist making some point about curbing carbon emissions.

  • Environmentalists say global warming is a serious problem.
  • Increased use of nuclear power plants could help curb global warming.
  • Geoengineering could help curb global warming.
  • Environmentalists dislike both global warming and nuclear power.
  • Therefore, environmentalists hate capitalism and modern society and I’ll ignore this issue!

I’m not a scientist; I’m not a science journalist; I don’t specialize in environmental issues. Based on what I know about how the world works, I think it’s perfectly plausible that environmentalists are understating the role that nuclear power and geoengineering/adaptation should play in dealing with climate change. Still, it’s absolutely clear that the solution involves reducing aggregate global carbon emissions to some level lower than the current one, that the current trends project emissions to rise indefinitely, and that changing the trend will be politically difficult. Whether or not environmentalists hate capitalism (some probably do!) just doesn’t make a real difference.