Everything Is Culture

The environmental story of the day concerns a project started by a climate skeptic named Richard Muller, a physicist who was so convinced that actual climate scientists were distorting or misreading the data that he started his own project, called the Berkeley Earth Science Temperature project, to double-check them. Climate deniers were excited -- at last, some actual scientists would prove that global warming is a hoax! The Charles G. Koch foundation even gave money to the project. One prominent climate denier blogger, Anthony Watts, wrote, "I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong." You may be able to guess where this is going. Brad Plumer explains:

So what are the end results? Muller’s team appears to have confirmed the basic tenets of climate science. Back in March, Muller told the House Science and Technology Committee that, contrary to what he expected, the existing temperature data was “excellent.” He went on: “We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups.” And, today, the BEST team has released a flurry of new papers that confirm that the planet is getting hotter. As the team’s two-page summary flatly concludes, “Global warming is real.”

So Watts and the other climate deniers will accept this, like they said they would, right? Of course not. Watts wrote a post saying that the project "Puts PR Before Peer Review," taking issue with some details and asserting that because the results haven't been peer reviewed yet, they need not be believed. And they haven't yet been peer reviewed. But once they are, rest assured that Watts will come up with something, anything to support his existing position and say that this study, whose validity he was so convinced of before it began, is now utterly bogus because it disagreed with him. The problem here is that climate change is culture. Let me give you a related example. As Grist's David Roberts recently explained, the solar industry is the fastest-growing industry in America, it provides good-paying jobs, and it's wildly popular with the public, yet Republicans are trying to use the Solyndra case to do everything they can to destroy any support we might give to the entire industry. Why? Well, because, um, screw you, hippie! As Kevin Drum says, "Even after following this stuff pretty closely for the past decade, it never fails to gobsmack me the way conservatives turn everything into a culture war issue." We need to understand "culture" broadly, in a way that encompasses politics, party, and identity. Over the past few years, the issue of climate change, and the environment more broadly, has been jammed further and further into the very heart of culture. For climate deniers to accept that the evidence demonstrates they've been wrong means accepting that the dirty hippies are right. That Al Gore is right. That everyone they hate is right. It becomes tantamount to saying conservatism as a worldview and the GOP as a party are fundamentally wrong. Faced with that, of course they'll convince themselves that the new evidence is part of the vast conspiracy, and they've been right all along. What else would we expect?