Thursday, August 5, 2010

Conservatives and their Alternate Planet

Have you noticed that conservatives live on a different planet? This is nowhere more evident than in their response to global warming. They deny the reality of one of the best attested facts in human existence. And they bolster it with appeals to religion, making things up that are not even in their scriptures.

In fact, we are all living on a different planet. As Bill McKibben points out in his new book, Eaarth, we no longer live on the old, comfortable planet Earth, but on a planet (which he calls Eaarth) in which global warming and its consequences have already become the norm. Political and religious conservatives have not yet reconciled themselves with the reality of Earth, much less of Eaarth.

The events of this week illustrate the fact perfectly. Three events have occurred that, while ignored by many people, are hugely ominous for the future of our planet.

First, climate scientists have predicted that areas near the oceans would get more rainfall, and get it in the form of big storms. They intended this as a future prediction, but it is the major fact of reality right now in Pakistan, which is having the worst floods in its history.

Second, climate scientists have predicted that areas in the middle of continents would experience droughts and heat waves. This is happening right now in Russia, at the same moment that Pakistan is flooded. Russia had not experienced temperatures of 100 F during the time that reliable records have been kept, but they have had temperatures over 100 F for almost two weeks now. The result has been a massive drought, with the biggest outbreak of forest fires in their history.

Third, climate scientists have predicted interruptions in agricultural productivity and international trade in agricultural products. This has just happened, today. On August 5, 2010, Russia announced that it was banning grain exports for the rest of the year. Add this to the near collapse of Australian grain production, and the price of grain on the international market will get even higher—which will, of course, affect poor people the most. Most Americans may not notice, because we can afford to pay almost any price for food, or so we think.

There are three stages of conservative response to global warming. The first stage is to deny that it is happening. The second stage is to claim that it is happening but is not being influenced by human activity. They are already beginning this second stage. The third stage is to just say that, oh well, we can’t do anything about it so we might as well go ahead and burn all the oil we want to.

These three viewpoints all contradict one another, but conservatives can comfortably accommodate them, because evolution has given us brains capable of maintaining mutually contradictory thoughts. Science has given us a way to transcend the limitations of our ape brains, but conservatives appear in this case to have no use for science.