Global Warming: Why the heat?

Often, when I listen to or read conservative viewpoints on global warming, I confess to being a bit mystified. It’s one thing to be opposed to something because you believe the facts are on your side. But that presumes that, if you could be convinced that the facts told a different story, you would change your view.

I believe this is the case for most people who argue that we should be concerned about global warming. Presumably if, over the next few years, a series of respected scientific reports came out that all argued against global warming, and if the initially predicted effects failed to occur or were seen to start to go in the reverse direction, we would all cool off (no pun intended).

But I don’t get that sense from global warming opponents (if “opponents” is indeed the right word here). Instead, the level of rehtoric suggests that if you could present irrefutable evidence that global warming was truly a serious threat, opponents (who almost always are political conservatives) would be at best disappointed and at worst would irrationally cling to their false beliefs anyway.

Why is this? On the surface, there seems nothing political about the subject. Either global warming exists or it doesn’t. If it does exist, it will not single out liberals for its harmful effects. So why have such a vested interest in one side of the debate?

I believe that one reason (as described by George Lakoff in an article I strongly recommend reading) is that an acceptance of global warming would require that something be done about it. That something would inevitably include increased environmental restrictions and more government oversight of industry. It is this that conservatives are against. They prefer to believe that global warming is not a threat because it is consistent with their overall political agenda.

This is not entirely unlike the tobacco industry, decades ago, insisting that cigarettes are not harmful to your health, despite the mounting evidence. They clearly had a vested interest in what was accepted as “true” and facts be damned. It’s the same sort of position now taken by conservatives and global warming.

Even if it turns out that the global warming threat is less serious than Al Gore is suggesting (which I doubt), it would not change the fact that the conservative position is based primarily on a desire to defend a conservative philosophy, whether it fits with the truth or not.

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