Tag Archives: climate risk

Reducing Risk, Increasing Threats

Events good and bad may be overtaking my novel, A Change in the Weather.

On the good side, a recent Bloomberg article says that 69% of young voters support gay marriage. What does this have to do with climate change?

Homophobia is in the constellation of reactionary attitudes that includes climate change denial. It’s a major motivation of the Order of the Eagle and Cross, the right-wing Christian militia in my story. According to reactionary belief, climate change is just another Trojan horse to sneak godless socialism into Fortress America, and a big part of that socialist agenda is homosexuality.

If the trajectory of the Bloomberg poll is predictive, in twenty years we’ll look back on today’s hostility toward gay marriage the way we look back on the hostility toward women’s suffrage. As far as ACITW goes, if homophobia is inexorably on the wane, then my plot line is a little less plausible.

On the bad side, the forces of reaction are already on the move. Hysteria over Obamacare, strongest in the former Confederacy, is rampant. Today, the Tea Party appears ready to shut down the government in a last attempt to blackmail the Democrats into delaying it. In keeping with the Old South, this hostile obstructionism borders on insurrection, but no one’s saying that.

On another front, the Tea Partiers are accusing Obama of declaring a “war” on coal and, by extension, America.  They’re trotting out the “way of life” language, and that makes my radar ping loudly. The anti-democratic hubris of claiming to be the only authentic Americans is part of a scary self-fulfilling dynamic. Check out this paean of aggrieved entitlement from Mitch McConnell:

We all have to pitch in to ameliorate the negative effects of reduced coal usage in those areas that depend on coal. Otherwise, we’re contributing to the us-and-them dynamic. I haven’t heard much about that from the Administration, but the conversion plan should be front-and-center, part-and-parcel of the plan to reduce greenhouse gasses from coal. It’s a national problem, not a regional one.

If society is severely stressed, as it would be if we suffer an abrupt climate change, look for the forces of reaction to strengthen.  Societal and economic stress gave rise to the Taliban. The Western world is inexorably encroaching on their ultra-conservative religious, hierarchical, and male-dominated “way of life,” and it enrages them. Could such a group arise in the West? Once the ice cap goes and the climate starts to unravel, our own ultra-conservative reactionaries will be looking to blame someone for God’s displeasure. The Taliban isn’t a majority in any country. But a few highly organized fanatics wielding fear can leverage a lot of people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do.

To Reactionaries, Reducing Risk Looks Like a Threat
Climate change is a risk, which is not the same thing as a threat. If it were, this blog wouldn’t exist. We’d have already taken the necessary steps to reduce the risks, instead of fighting just to get the risks recognized. Humans are psychologically wired to respond to threats, not risk.

Our disinclination to think in terms of risk is a vestigial survival mechanism from our paleolithic days. Fight-or-flight makes a lot of sense from a Darwinian POV when you’re trying to survive on the veldt. Fretting about abstract things like whether long-term atmospheric flows would have been highly maladaptive in that primitive environment. You’d be eaten by a saber-tooth while you’re standing around with your eyes turned to the sky.

So, how to make the changes now, before it’s too late, especially when those changes to reduce the risk of a climate catastrophe are indistinguishable from a threat to the Tea Partier’s God-given, patriotism-appropriating “way of life”?

I’m giving the blog a rest for a bit. The IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report is coming out. There’ll be lots of reactivity around that, I’m sure. And the EPA’s new limits on CO2 emissions virtually guarantee that another new coal-fired electric generation plant will never be built in America. And, of course, there’s the threat of government shutdown over Obamacare, and again later this month over the debt ceiling (the Far Right’s own Trojan horse for further dismantling of the Federal government). I’ll be watching with trepidation. See you in a few weeks.


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