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Brendan O’Neill: Climate Sceptics Are Today’s Radical Rebels

Green thinking represents a challenge to the status quo? That’s a laughable idea. From schools and universities to every corner of the Western political sphere, the climate-change outlook is the status quo. In fact, it’s the new conservatism.

EXPERTS continue to hunt for the psycho-social underpinnings of that alleged mental disorder, climate-change denialism. Unwilling to accept that climate-change scepticism is simply an idea, informed by analysis and ideology, green know-it-alls are always sniffing around for a pseudo-scientific explanation for this apparently unhinged outlook.

So this week Scientific American informs us of a new academic study titled Cool Dudes: The Denial of Climate Change Among Conservative White Males in the United States. Having pored over polling data on climate-change denial collected in the US between 2001 and 2010, the study’s authors deduce that 29.6 per cent of conservative white men believe global warming will never have much of an effect, compared with only 7.4 per cent of the general adult population.

When it comes to what the researchers call “confident conservative white males” – those who claim to have a high understanding of global warming – the findings are even more striking: 48.4 per cent of these cocky cons think global warming is a lot of hot air.

What explains this alleged sniffiness about climate-change orthodoxy among the white and well-off in the US? According to the report, it’s down to a mix of evolution and the cult of identity.

Apparently, there’s something called “the white male effect”, where, because white men have faced fewer obstacles in life than other groups, they are “more accepting of risk than the rest of the public”. In short, having lived cushy lives, they now laugh in the face of the End of Days.

There are so many problems with this report it’s hard to know where to begin. First, the report patronisingly treats what it calls climate-change denial – itself a loaded term – as a kind of default behaviour, a group instinct.

In line with authoritarian regimes throughout history, many of which had a tendency to write off alternative views as the products of unstable minds, greens refuse to treat scepticism as a legitimate way of thinking.

Even worse is the report’s suggestion that white male conservatives are likelier to be sceptical about climate change because they don’t like “challenges to the status quo”.

Wait: green thinking represents a challenge to the status quo? That’s a laughable idea. From schools and universities to every corner of the Western political sphere, the climate-change outlook is the status quo. It’s the new conservatism, its aim being to conserve nature at the expense of further developing and transforming society.

Greens like to fantasise that they are radicals whose ideas are continually shot down by what Scientific American calls the white male establishment. Yet at a time when everyone from Barack Obama to stuffy stick-in-the-muds such as Prince Charles sing from the climate-change hymn sheet, in what sense can it be described as a radical creed? These apparently dangerous white male deniers are straw men set up by greens who can’t quite handle the fact it is they and their friends who are now the promoters and protectors of the political status quo. Perhaps this means green-baiting white male conservatives actually represent a new and weird band of rebels?

The Australian, 8 October 2011