Over at Grist.org, David Roberts sees GOP climate denialism as part of something bigger and more insidious:
The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions. Experts are made elites; their presumption of expertise becomes self-damning. They think they’re better than you. They talk down to you. They don’t respect people like us, real Americans. Here’s Americans’ trust in institutions…from Gallup data (click for larger version):
Of course the decline of trust in institutions is multi-causal, but the right’s relentless assault has certainly exacerbated matters. Here’s another graph to chill your blood, showing the only two institutions in which trust is rising:
Roberts sums things up well:
The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly, but that’s not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality — a closed-loop system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards — designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That’s why when you question climate skepticism you catch hell. You’re messing with who people are.
I’m reminded of this passage from the Vanity Fair article on Sarah Palin:
According to almost everyone who has ever known her, including those who have seen the darkest of her dark side, Sarah Palin has a great gift for making people feel good about themselves. Her knack for remembering names and faces and the details of her interactions with people—and for seeming to be present to the person in front of her—constitute an extraordinary power of engagement. Now she is using that power in a fundamentally different way. In part she is using it in the service of her own ambitions. But she is also planting the idea with audiences that they might not be good enough, by telling them she thinks they’re plenty good, no matter what anybody else may say. (“They talk down to us… They think that if we were just smart enough … ”) To some, the message sounds like an affirmation. But is it really? Or does it seed self-doubt and rancor among her partisans, and encourage them to see everyone else as malign.
Here’s something to keep in mind: addressing climate change is about preserving freedom!