Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

The lunacy of the masses

Posted by metaphorical on 20 March 2007

If you want to get depressed, there are few better ways than to look at the the unlimited ability of your fellow citizens to deny the obvious, especially when reality might be a little bit inconvenient. Of course I’m referring to global warming.

A poll today on the Wall Street Journal’s website asks, “Is global warming tied to human activity?” Everyone from the National Academies of Science to NASA to the U.N. has come to the conclusion that global warming is a fact and human activity is largely the cause. The tiny minority of so-called scientists who deny global warming never publish in peer-reviewed journals and their studies are always found to be sponsored by oil companies and others with a vested interest in denying the blinding obviousness of global warming.

At 5:00 EDT, when I last looked, 6144 people had responded to the WSJ’s poll. Here’s how they answered:

WSJ.com Global warming poll, 20 March 2007

In other words, only 35% answered “Yes definitely” and only a total of 56% said that it was at least plausible. 44% said that it was unlikely, or simply untrue, or denied that global warming was even taking place. In other words, nearly half of all people of one of the wealthiest and most educated demographics you’ll find on the Web have been conveniently bamboozled by the loose consortium of oil companies, Bush administration lackeys, Fox News commentators, and random ecological holocaust deniers who apparently emit enough greenhouse gases to obscure the crystal-clear light of reason.

You might think that rather than represent the average intelligent reader of the WSJ, the surveys there cater to the rare Bush administration afficianado or other religious extremist. But according to a colleague of mine who looks at wsj.com almost every day, these surveys seem to get a broad range of opinion. And sure enough, today there was a survey that asked “Should Attorney General Gonzales remain in office?” In case this blog is being read in the year 2050, I’ll just mention that this post was written a day before Gonzales’s near-certain resignation tomorrow. A healthy 68% of 12838 said yes.

Let’s leave aside the depressing fact that twice as many people care whether Gonzales steps down, only to be replaced by another incompetent Ed Meese clone, than about global warming, even as far as the massive effort of clicking a couple of times on a Web page is concerned. Basically, half of the answering public opts for the scientific belief that conveniently implies we needn’t make any sacrifices to preserve the planet for future generations.

It’s an extraordinary victory of ennui over reason, because frankly, the case for global warming is as overwhelming as an asteroid hitting the White House, a more realistic fantasy by any standard. Though the case is even stronger now in any number of ways, back in 2004 Science magazine published an article, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” It looked at “928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords “climate change.”

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

None of the papers. Let’s just let that word echo…. none.

When I said that everyone from the NAS to NASA to the U.N. has come to the same conclusion, I was just skimming the surface. As the Science article notes,

The American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling.

Let’s just let that word echo… compelling.

So maybe 44% of the WSJ crowd are assholes—a possibility that shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. But the idea that 44% of any crowd could be global warming deniers is a little bit—to use the word from the top of the post —depressing.

11 Responses to “The lunacy of the masses”

  1. I think the poll can be seen in terms of the human race inability to think in long-term and to change their living patterns.

    If you believe in global warming presumably most people with some kind of consciousness would have to examine their own surroundings, whereas fireing the attorney general or not doesn’t change the reality of living that much(sadly enough).

    You’d be surprised how many good people disregard from unpleasant truths just for convenience – just look at the meat industry.

  2. Blue Athena said

    What percent of the US population believes in the mystical libertarian version of “free will”? If well over 90% of the population can delude themselves on something so basic, it should come as no surprise that 44% can delude themselves on more complex issues. People will always be deluded…and it’s likely that the more deluded folks, dangerous though they may be, have bought themselves a nice chunk of happiness and contentment at the expense of the rest of us.

  3. digglahhh said

    For what it’s worth, I’m not sure Carlin is completely convinced. I’ve heard him spout the large scale, long term climate changes throughout history argument.

    What is depressing is how open-ended the question is and how we still get 44% naysayers.

    This doesn’t ask you admit that global warming is even a serious threat. It doesn’t ask you is we are “responsible” for global warming. It is so vague and unassuming, it basically asks if human behavior has any impact on the environment at all.

    Even somebody who feels that global warming is largely a function of long term climate patterns has room to agree that humans are exacerbating a trend that may occur with or without them. This might be where Carlin would fall in.

    In light of how soft this question is, and how much of a denier you can be and still agree with, or partially agree with this poll, 44% is probably understating the deniers…

  4. Lee50 said

    You have no one to blame but yourselves for your failure to convince everyone of our impending Apocalypse. The approach the Left takes on this subject is guaranteed to produce reflexive, angry blowback, not to mention setting off most peoples bullshit-o-meters. Like every other issue you impugn the motives and intelligence of everyone who disagrees with you. You have disgraced yourselves by corrupting the use of the words Holocaust and Deniers, sullying the memories of the victims of the Nazis. You have attempted to cut off debate on one of the most complicated scientific inquiries in history. Scientific consensus has always been challenged and frequently been overturned. Your movement is lead by people who are blatantly anti-American, anti-capitalist, and anti-Western Civilization. The philosophy of the environmentalists, with it’s doomsday warnings and moral judgments, is frighteningly like some whacked out fundamentalist Christian religion. Your scare mongering is not backed up by even symbolic legislative proposals, such as banning Nascar or private jets. If things are as bad as you say they are I would think you would have some kind of moral responsibility to convince the Average Joe of your side. Like it or not that guy has heard the sky is falling a few too many times. He knows in his gut that your solutions mean higher taxes for him and a lot fewer jobs but it won’t hurt the rich guys one bit. He instinctively knows it’s probably not a good thing to give governments, and especially a corrupt organization like the U.N. anymore power than they already have. He really hasn’t paid attention to the whole subject up till now but I guarantee you the more he’s exposed to your hyperbole, your holier-than-thou attitude, your leaders hypocrisy, and your condemnation of anyone who disagrees with you as being evil and stupid, the more he’ll move away from your camp. And when he gets a chance to vote it will be for the guy who opposes you. And then you will have accomplished nothing. Fortunately. So keep up the good work, preaching to the choir and all that. I’m sure, although completely ineffective, it makes you all feel better about yourselves.

  5. The problem is precisely that the things that the average Joe “knows in his gut” are false.

    Green technologies have never made for higher taxes or a net loss of jobs, though short-sighted policies by a succession of U.S. governments have led to Japan being the world leader in high-mileage low-emission cars and China the world leader in solar energy, even though cars and photovoltaics were both invented in the U.S.

    It’s lovely the way religious extremists, right-wing think tanks, anti-government appointed bureaucrats, and quarterly-profit-minded gray-industry executives do their best to pervert science and then turn around and argue that it’s unreliable, or changes its mind, or has “frequently been overturned.” The main line of science has been straight as an arrow for 500 years, and would have been for 2000 years if it weren’t for a millennium of religion-induced chaos stuck in between.

    This discussion has been about science, not environmentalism, despite your attempt to occlude it, and, as digglahhh implied, there hasn’t been a single doomsday pronouncement made. There would, indeed, be little point in talking about global warming if we weren’t at a point where we could avert many of its worst consequences. In other words, there’s hope, and would be more of it if there was less of the obfuscation and outright lying that you, Lee50, seem to support.

  6. Lee50 said

    Gee, thanks for proving my point. I support obfuscation and outright lying, eh? You forgot to impugn my intelligence. Now go back and read the first sentence of my other post, about why the left is having such a hard time making it’s case. You reveal the usual religious bigotry of the left in your comment about religion-induced chaos. Once again, decide if you’re trying to convince all the people of the seriousness of the problem or are you only interested in preaching to the choir. It doesn’t bother me, being an agnostic and all, but I reached your blog via Google. Someone who is undecided, possibly a Christian, might come along and read this and conclude you are a jerk and just move along.

  7. I welcome all Google visitors, including you, Lee, but you’ve twice now resolutely avoided discussing any of the substantive issues concerning ignorance about global warming and introduced all manner of irrelevancies, including banning Nascar, which you argue I should propose even as you know I would be (rightly) mocked if I did. You accuse me of scare mongering, moralizing, and doomsday prediction, yet can’t point to a single sentence containing any of it. You use the phrase “your movement” as if I have one. And yet you deny obfuscating the issues or lying (which in some ways is the generous interpretation of your remarks).

    When I write a post that tries to convince an undecided Christian about the truth of global warming I’ll let you know. This wasn’t it. (In fact, I’ll give you a hint: with dominion comes great responsibility.)

  8. ClaireDePlume said

    We do not require a team of scientists to tell us that our earth is “ailing” and needs our care to recover. All we need do is open our eyes and LOOK at our world, our hemisphere, our countries, our cities.

    When I read through the replies here, there is quite a mixed bag of reactions.

    OUR world needs OUR attention, and this cannot be accomplished by arguing who is right and who is wrong.

    Some of us have parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents who lived through a world war. There was no time for pointing fingers, or separating themselves from the rest of humanity to say, “I told you so” etc. Everyone had to rally together, and show some backbone. Whining was not an option.

    We could learn from those people now. War rations meant energy conservation, and everyone had no choice but to help. My Grandparents survived two world wars and being in England, an island with limited resources, nothing was too insignificant to escape restraint and personal responsibility. Rations meant conserving gasoline and oil, vehicles and tires, electricity, food, paper, clothing, entertainment and personal care items – all the “must-have’s” which doing with less of these now might bring tears to most people now. Yet it was a clear choice for all of those people – life or death.

    We do not currently have such a harsh ultimatum, all the better reason for us to do our personal part. Rather than checking our sources for facts, heating up the ether with confrontations which have little impact on the big picture, or offering decoys to obscure the real topic here, ~Our~ Earth, I am pasting a link for all who care to pitch in and do what they can. Share this with your parents, your children, your friends. Be a Good Citizen and take part in our world.

    I can assure you, that IF there is a world in 500, or 300, or perhaps only 100 years, little will ever be known of our in-fighting and back-biting. However, if our efforts to rise to the occasion succeed, our actions might very well become an example for hundreds of years, of how we lived up to our roles as the earth’s custodians and gave our best to keep this pretty blue orb alive.

    Here are 100 ways WE can make a difference. I hope that all of us read them and keep our pointy fingers limber for much more urgent work.


  9. You have no one to blame but yourselves for your failure to convince everyone of our impending Apocalypse. The approach the Left takes on this subject is guaranteed to produce reflexive, angry blowback, not to mention setting off most peoples bullshit-o-meters.

    How did this become a question for the left? If both “conservative” and “leftish” media reports on how can it be a a hijacking of scientific results for vicious propaganda?

    And if average Joe “knows in his gut that your solutions mean higher taxes for him and a lot fewer jobs but it won’t hurt the rich guys one bit” then why did he and lot of other average Joes vote for a president that so obviously don’t give a flying damn about average Joes and is behaving like Nixon 2.0.

    And how come average Joe cares a lot more about anti-abortion and homosexual not getting to marry than good jobs, health care and education?

    In fact I would like to meet this average Joe to discuss these issues. There’s something fishy about this…

  10. digglahhh said

    Let’s try to refrain from politicizing the environment. Science is manipulated and filtered for political purposes with regularity, but what is at the heart here is truly universal.

    I think many of your claims about the self righteousness and intellectual snobbery have validity, Lee. But, I also think this is not the best issue around which to bring them up. Paradise or dystopia, radical to conservative, it doesn’t much matter with a toxic water supply. I’d urge people to unite on the self-preservation front first and hash out the more politically based issues afterwards.

    The nature of this issue makes it the one that both sides of the political spectrum SHOULD be able to agree on.

  11. global warming is becoming such a obvious problem that someone somewhere other than Al Gore needs to step up to help drive the bus!

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