The Spectacle Blog

The Psychology of Climate Change

By on 7.17.14 | 10:54AM

"The Population Bomb: While You Are Reading These Words Four People Will Have Died of Starvation, Most of Them Children,” read the title of Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 book. In 1975, Newsweek’s Peter Gwynne wrote an article called “The Cooling World,” which argued that the earth was cooling and “the resulting famines could be catastrophic.” These days, you can’t drop your child off at pre-school or go to the grocery store without hearing about the latest Malthusian uproar, climate change.  

The doomsayers have run into no trouble reaching the otherwise tone-deaf executive branch. Yesterday, President Obama said, "climate change poses a direct threat to the infrastructure of America," before unleashing a number of new climate change initiatives.

To be clear, it does seem like the earth is warming and that human beings have an effect on it. That much is apparent. But the rate at which the earth is warming, the amount of influence that humans have on the climate, and the proper solutions are certainly up for debate.

The problem is there is no room for debate among the climate change “popular kids." In the world of climate scientists, the consensus is the consensus, and those who dare disagree risk being belittled and called “a pawn of the fossil-fuel industry." Today in the New York Times, John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and prominent climate change skeptic, recalls his experience greeting a fellow climate scientist at a gathering of experts:

I walked over and held out my hand to greet him. He looked me in the eye, and he said, "No." I said, "Come on, shake hands with me." And he said, "No."

As much as climate change activists like to mock us backward-thinking religious folk, climate change has become a religion of its own. Accept their beliefs as fact or risk being excommunicated. Only the high priests (accredited scientists) can speak on the matter, and when challenged they point to their credentials instead of arguing back.

Eric Vogelin describes gnosticism as a "type of thinking that claims absolute cognitive mastery of reality. Relying as it does on a claim to gnosis, gnosticism considers its knowledge not subject to criticism." Vogelin notes that gnostics normally don’t believe in God as they have replaced the religious belief in salvation with a belief that salvation can occur on earth. If God does not exist, humans are all-powerful and can arrange society to achieve utopia. Therefore, humans are influential enough to destroy the earth or conversely “slow the rise of the oceans." 

It’s funny that the exact opposite of the monolithic kind of thinking that drives climate change activism could be the solution. Climate change scientists fail to see how individualism and competition have already helped the environment. Consider the fact that before cars, people used to travel on horseback. This created an extreme public health and environmental problem. In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. We all know what happened next. The human mind created an unimaginable innovation in the form of the car, which presented far fewer environmental problems than horses. Development and innovation help the environment, and when they are stifled, we lose out on major environmental victories. The "environmental Kuznets curve" suggests that pollution may follow an inverted -U pattern as a nation's economy develops.

Despite what gnostics say, there are things that humans just cannot know or predict. And yet the greatest natural resources come from unleashing the human mind. 

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