Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Genesis of the Climate Change Stalemate

Why are so many Americans still so stubbornly in denial about climate change?

Here's one explanation:

A plausible explanation was supplied by a Harvard Law Review article I recently read. The article links disputes over technical issues to clusters of values that form competing cultural worldviews, most notably “egalitarian” and “individualist” worldviews.

The article asserts that egalitarians are “naturally sensitive to environmental hazards, the abatement of which justifies regulating commercial activities that produce social inequality.”

By contrast, the article notes, “individualists” generally “dismiss claims of environmental risk as specious, in line with their commitment to the autonomy of markets.” Because climate change appears to threaten the core idea of individualism, individualists will engage in considerable intellectual gymnastics to avoid climate regulation.

In sum, most people (other than a few scientists and economists who actually know what they are talking about)* with strong opinions on climate policy are responding less to objective reality than to their cultural values. As a practical matter, this means that Americans are going to have a great deal of difficulty reaching a popular consensus on climate policy; because the issue is so technical, ill-informed public opinion is likely to be impervious to new scientific evidence. The stalemate can only be broken through policies that appeal to both sides.

The good news, as we emphasize here at Conservation Value Institute, is that it IS possible to get people with widely differing views on climate change to support related clean energy solutions.

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