First, a small group seems to have some logical, quasi-scientific basis for their outlook, despite the piles of evidence and broad consensus among the scientific community; and certainly there is plenty of reason to recognize the arrogance, variance, and uncertainty in the scientific enterprise. But, while some skepticism is sensible, they have not mounted any plausible alternative and they have an air of desperation about them. This group may be actually a subset of the fourth group but they have a better grasp of the language of science and can position themselves on a more sophisticated plane.
Second, there are some who are more or less directly motivated by financial gain, having invested (time/money) in various carbon/methane/industrial/capitalism-intensive undertakings. It comes as no surprise that some oil-company studies from several decades ago noted the plausibility of climate change (and the implications for the oil biz) which were (not dissimilarly from Big Tobacco) dismissed, discarded, or deeply buried. But, again, this is another relatively small group.
A third group, shuts down any contemplation of the possibilities by assuming that anything endorsed by the “Libs” must be wrong, lest some disruptive weltanschauung overwhelm them. This seems to account for the Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis collection. Their alignment with Trumpian ideas more broadly is not a coincidence, so it’s hard to imagine having a substantive conversation with them on the topic.
Fourth, most rejecters arrive at their position, I suspect (more unconsciously than not) by either a cognitive dissonance with the implications of climate change; i.e., they can’t get their heads around a world in which the very planet is no longer a viable foundation for a common worldview. This stance is deeper and, in a sense, logically prior to, that of the MAGA-ites. This cognitive preclusion [disclaimer: I am not a psychologist (although my wife is studying to be one)] is based on both a disconnection with history and with the future. They can’t imagine a world in which the world/environment is radically different from our current “green and pleasant land.” Nor can they understand that the very nature of modern life has been built upon an economics and a psychology with huge discontinuities.
There is likely a large (fifth) group (perhaps the plurality of folks) who don’t get it either, but are willing to believe—at least directionally—that significant change is necessary, even if they don’t understand what it’s going to look like or how we’re going to get there. Some in this group don’t (at a certain level) care. They figure that they will be dead by more or less natural causes in the next thirty years before the serious shit hits the fan.
By way of digression, I would note that this emerging awareness is intellectually and emotionally challenging. It is of the same register as the “discoveries”/awakenings in the last few years that capitalism/inequality, gender differentials/discrimination, and racial/ethnic exploitation are all deeply “baked-in” to our society and that we are just starting the work of recognizing and moving towards remedying them.
One need not believe in the most dire scenarios and dystopias to recognize that there is a real and significant possibility (likelihood) of massive disruptions and destructions. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) wasn’t nearly enough; nor Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth (2006). Nor, apparently are any number of hurricanes, storms, droughts, satellite images, etc. The heat waves in Texas this month and the Canadian fires and resultant ashes spread across the upper Midwest and Northeast in the past few weeks are not enough, either. All the UN reports, scientific studies and tables and graphs operate at a rational level rather than connecting with how most people understand their world. For most of us, we don’t synthesize and analyze and logically project effects from causes. We live our lives as best we can within the context of our deeply-embedded cultures oriented towards conventionality, compliance, and getting by.
This approach to living is not new; even if modern capitalistic consumption accelerated by media and tech has increased the distance between our “normal” scope of awareness and what we are socially capable of understanding about our world. Inertia and incremental change (“human nature”?) is how almost everybody (about 100 billion of us over the past 70,000+ years) has functioned. The modern difference is the presence of science and analysis which gives us the chance to comprehend the state of the world in a deeper and more complex way than was available until the last 150 years or so.
The recent decision by State Farm and Allstate to stop writing new homeowner insurance policies in California provides a hint of a direction things are likely to take. It’s only when we get hit in the wallet that we pay attention. Indeed, the insurance mindset is one that offers both a route to awareness/action and a model for that action. Among the attitudes which startle me (especially among the ultra-capitalists (group two above) and those ordinary folks (group five)) is the refusal by these otherwise prudent folks not to buy a little insurance against the off chance that they’re wrong and have a lot at risk. At both a policy level and a personal level, this would seem to make sense (not to mention ounce of prevention = pound of cure).
I like to think of myself as someone who thinks that they do “get it” (at least directionally). At the same time, I also understand that it’s easy to condescend to those that I don’t think “get it.” Of that large group, I’m most concerned with those who could “get it,” but choose not to. But, as I have argued elsewhere, this is no time and place for “us and them;” we have no room for Hillary’s famous reference to “deplorables.” We’re all in the same boat and everybody needs to bail.
It is difficult and painful to try to wrap my head around the kind of changes needed. Most folks don’t have the luxuries of time and resources that I have to cogitate on such matters. Even still, it’s not likely that I see or will implement all the changes needed. I have no small inertia myself. Are solar panels, electric cars, and grey water enough? Probably not. It’s (past) time to think hard about what is to be done in the real world.