The Sociology of the Climatology Debate?

I’ve been thinking about Global Warming, or Climate Change– call it what you want.

I’m not so interested in debating the science– I would worry that it would become a flame war.  If this post prompts considerate discussion with no sarcasm and ridiculous levels of politeness then I think we’ll be good. If it turns ugly, you should know that all comments are moderated by me before posted and I will take the post down. I hope to have an interesting discussion.

I’ve not read anything particularly scholarly as to why this debate seems to lopsided. Everyone has jumped on the Liberal wagon, and few of us Moderates or Conservatives have viewpoints that seem well-represented.1

Let me reiterate that the science is a separate issue; I’m talking about the debate. There are several elements that seem present in the discussion.

    1. Does the Earth’s temperature fluctuate?

Most of us agree—of course it does.

    2. How does human activity contribute to that fluctuation—or what things contribute to possible anthropogenic shifting of the climate?

Most scientists and educated laymen seem to agree that methane, carbon dioxide, and urban heat islands have effects on weather patterns and climate. Not all of them seem to agree on how, but that is not exactly pertinent to what I’m interested in.

    3. Will human activity trigger a catastrophic change in Earth’s climate?

This is where the real divergence in opinions begins, and where the useful discussion may begin. There are some staunch Liberals who indicate things such as sea levels rising and storms becoming more severe. Again, I am not interested in this particular debate here—I have my views and will seek out information on my own time.

    4. What policies should we make to reduce possible effects of human activity on climate whether or not a catastrophic change is possible or likely?

This is the hot spot right now, because it involves politics and economics. Poor decisions either way could contribute to real problems down the road. This is true on both sides. Poor economic decisions now may have real impact on future generations. Poor environmental planning in general is, well… I guess the answer there is obvious—it’s bad.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for clean air and I think energy solutions are awesome, but I think tying such ideas to the ‘Climate Change’ has done the environmentalist movement more harm than good. Time may prove me wrong, and I may change my stance, but that is not what this blog post is about.

Instead, I want to know what possible sociological or cultural reasons are there for the lack of Conservatives with well-reasoned viewpoints that are well-published and well-known. Some reasons for this that occur are me: 1) People say they’re wrong– they are not part of the consensus because they’ve gone out on a scientific limb. 2) Media makes more money by publishing alarming things than they do by publishing well reasoned arguments and scientific data– so they’re out there, but we can’t hear them, because money-making magazines are shouting too loudly for us to hear them. 3) Politicians want to inflame the issue to keep themselves in office and grant themselves power. 4) Actual Climate scientists may have significant investments in AGW and don’t want to consider the alternative because they have too much to lose: economically, in status and influence, and in ego.

Altogether, these are not completely satisfying to me. While the political and media influence accounts for a lot, I think there may be another factor.

Enter: My Hypothesis- Conservatives tend toward a fundamentally different view of education (or maybe it’s evidence they view differently?) than Liberals do, seeking practical and short-term, immediate connectivity with their daily lives. In contrast, Liberals love learning, and view it as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Because of this disinterestedness in the abstract, Conservatives seek higher education in different fields and less frequently than Liberals do. This effect is compounded by the tendency of higher education to have liberal biases inherent in the curriculum and course structuring.2 This may not be true, but it’s food for thought, right? Anyway, on we go…

This leads then to a larger percentage of scientists and climatologists that are Liberal in persuasion, and thus more likely to be in favor of government intervention for the protection of the environment as well as a possible tendency to favor hypotheses and results that tend toward support for the current Liberal political platform. The very questions they ask and the ways in which they interpret their data might be skewed. This tendency would be mild, and hopefully unconscious of course, but the Climate change as a political issue and a study at the forefront of the scientific community has been around long enough for such influence to creep in.

In addition to this seeming dominance of Liberal Climatologists, the media coverage is ubiquitous and deliberately contrived to emphasize the controversy. This does not mean that these scientists are wrong. What it does mean is that it becomes ever more difficult for a layman whose hobbies do not equip them to study actual data and scholarly reports to interpret the scientific community’s stance and make an educated and objective decision. In short, we can’t hear the actual scientists (no matter which side they’re on) often enough, because the media is shouting so loudly and incoherently.

Among any one person’s sources for understanding this conflict we can include many resources, but usually having someone interpret the data for us is very helpful. Since the media in general is an untrustworthy source in general, this leaves us with two options that I can see. First, go to the scientists themselves. We’ve already explained that this is difficult. The second option is to go to weather experts we know—students, professors, people who otherwise spend their time educating themselves on the subject of Climatology—these are people we believe we can trust to decipher data for us that we aren’t equipped to decipher for ourselves.

This leads me to my second point. These educated laymen, or Meteorology hobbyists, or whatever elsethey are, are collectively balanced in about the same percentages as the scientists themselves. This is because as I indicated earlier, Conservatives tend not to see studying such things as being useful—they have no immediate repercussions: they are not time spent in pragmatic pursuits. This dearth of Conservative ‘armchair’ Climatologists is disheartening for Conservatives who would generally prefer to be well informed, and who would prefer that their chosen political candidates be well informed, not to mention the general public.

On to the point, I suppose. This does not mean that the Conservatives are right, and that no catastrophe is looming in our Meteorological future. What it does mean is that policy crafted by a balanced argument is difficult to obtain, because of the inherent systemic patterns of bias of which my hypothesis is only one of many, several of which I did not even mention because they aren’t as pertinent to the general sociology of the general debate.3

1I do not claim to be an expert on Climatology, Meteorology, or Sociology– while this may feel like it’s well put together, or a bunch of hooey, it’s just an idea.

2This is perhaps partially because of the common conception in academic circle of Faith and Reason as being diametrically opposed, but this is a false binary. I will blog on false binaries some other time.

3I cannot of course, easily if ever prove this hypothesis about Conservatives and Liberals, their views on education, and therefore their representation within the Anthropogenic Global Warming debate—but I know that. I present it here simply as an idea—which you may politely critique if you so desire. I know of no studies about this subject, but if you are aware of surveys, polls, longitudinal studies, etc, in this direction, or that may enlighten me, please send them my way.

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1 Comment

Filed under Capitalism, Congress, Current Events, Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Sociology

One response to “The Sociology of the Climatology Debate?

  1. Pete

    “Conservatives seek higher education in different fields and less frequently than Liberals do.” I do not know about the assertion that conservatives seek education less frequently, but it is true that they seek education in other areas. If you want to know where the conservatives are look in the business school, engineering and…history/poli-sci. However one of the most conservative professors I had during my college education was Don Burge, a geologist. Meteorology is a branch of geology. He used to say that global warming or climate change or whatever incarnation it has taken this week is balderdash and he would lay out his arguments. But attention is not paid to him because it is not popular.

    I have my lower (AS) degree in journalism. After graduating with that degree I decided that I had no place in that field. A Jeffersonian Liberal like me has no place amongst the real liberals. Journalism is an extremely liberal field amongst the liberal arts. Journalists add sway, control opinions and make notions wide spread and popular. Also journalists have agendas, they are NOT objective. For that fact no person on the face of the earth is objective. Journalism is a major reason why climate change has diffused as a prevalent political ideology. Climate change is a hypothesis that is being forced to a theory and eventually a law by mob rule, not by real science. That is easily done by loose journalistic license.

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