The internet making fun of mainstream media messaging – an example of winning?
Ian: In an email shared amongst the Cliscep team recently I mentioned that I thought climate scepticism had passed a tipping point and that our side was now, finally, winning. Jaime agreed, but cautioned that the scales have only tipped very lightly in our favour; Tom disagreed (that scepticism was winning) and suggested we discuss it. So, er, let’s discuss it.
My observation is very broad brush, informed by the same feeling for what’s going on as Brendan O’Neill outlines here:
Across the Western world, a revolt is occurring. A quiet, polite ballot-box revolt against the postwar political order. A people’s unravelling of politics as we knew it. A rebellious cross-in-the-box against technocracy and for something different. The establishment calls it demagoguery, the left calls it fascism, but it looks to me like a reawakening of the demos’s sense of itself, a new confidence among voters, a grassroots urge to destabilise vested political interests and patterns and to rattle entire institutions and parties. To my mind, having a naff American president for a few years and witnessing the rise of eccentric parties in Europe is a small price to pay for this brilliant public defiance of the modern West’s small, suffocating politics.
O’Neill was commenting (link) on the gains made by AfD in the German elections – something which, he argued, was not all good but seen in the above context (of a rejection of technocracy) has its place in something very big and exciting happening. I think this is an important point. Things never go as you would really like them to go; history is rarely propelled by the vehicles and people you’d like it to be – it’s messy. But, in general, the voice of the people gets us there in whatever way it finds to protest. And it’s getting us there now. It’s getting us away from the idea of government as something done elsewhere by people and bodies who know better than us. Climate alarmism, being a key – the keyest of keys – to this form of distant, hollow rule, therefore cannot be as confident as it once was.
I’ve noticed this on a personal level, and I don’t think that’s insignificant. The people around you are just as much a measure of culture and politics as a full-blown survey, I’d say. (Okay, maybe not just as much an indicator but I don’t think it can be dismissed as merely anecdotal.) For about ten years, since starting to argue (occasionally) with friends fully on board with the dangerous climate change narrative, there’s no question I was considered the most profound lunatic. That’s changed. Now I’m possibly a lunatic. Probably. They’re not as sure anymore. We’ve passed a tipping point.
Tom talking here: Hi Ian, first–thanks for broaching the topic and starting the ball rolling. (And I don’t think you’re a lunatic at all.) I think your piece is well-reasoned, but light on the data that would advance it as a line of argument. From my point of view, I don’t see much change in the polity, the electorate, people’s opinions on climate change, immigration, world trade… or anything. What I think is happening which perhaps you mistake for ‘Arrakis Awakening’ (hark ye fans of Dune) is those who are most committed speaking louder and understanding social media better. The percentages of people who accept or reject climate change change vary little year-on-year and the same seems to be true for other issues. But the venues where conversation is taking place are shrinking in number while growing in shrillness. In the climate blogosphere, gone are the days when open discussion was widely held and we happily migrated from Bishop Hill to Climate Audit to Collide-a-Scape to My Views on Climate Change to Real Climate to Only In It For The Gold, cursing or cheering as we went. They’re all dead or dormant, including my own modest efforts.
Now we are left with our own good selves at Climate Scepticism, hybrid sites like The Conversation, and And Then There’s Physics. And there is very little crosstalk between adherents of ATTP and Climate Scepticism. (Hi Len! How’s it going?) We are become echo chambers and the conversation has stopped.
In terms of winning, that is not good news for you skeptics and we lukewarmers. I’ve written for years that the consensus need do nothing more than outlast us all to be victorious, and stasis is as good a strategy as any. We on the other side of the fence tend to forget (we may want to forget) the institutional advantages grasped by those we oppose. Look at what’s being taught in schools–look at who gets appointed to disburse research funds. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.
In a way it reminds me of arguments that resurface occasionally about the decline of the USA, my home country. No country can remain top dog forever and I’m sure that’s true of the US as well. But the arguments heralding its upcoming fall from grace always seemed motivated by desire more than data. And if I told you that a country of 325 million wealthy and well-educated citizens, controllers of a military force that could equal the world’s en masse, home to 168 of the highest-rated universities in the world, generators of untold numbers of patents and innovations, leading lights in biotechnology, genomics, nanotechnology, robotics, the internet of things and more… if I told you this country was set for decline without naming it, you’d look at me funny.
That’s the same way I feel about the consensus forces regarding climate change. We lukewarmers and ye skeptics can have a decade-long great run in opposition–and we have, more than once. But our tactical victories haven’t changed facts on the ground. Universities are not offering courses, let alone degrees in climate skepticism. Subsidies for green energy have not been abandoned. The rhetoric of those most alarmed has not abated.
Meanwhile we in opposition are getting older–and I don’t see hordes of young skeptics or lukewarmers flocking to our banners.
I’m not giving up and I’m not losing hope. But nor am I ready to ignore the strength of the armies arrayed against us.
Ian: Tom, you say, speaking for yourself, you don’t see much change in the polity or people’s opinions, and then later that you don’t see hordes of young sceptics/lukewarmers coming through… I think I do, but not in an obvious way. Climate Alarmism isn’t mentioned much by people like Paul Joseph Watson or Steven Crowder (or that whole new constellation of Youtube stars) – they focus on identity politics, Islam, political correctness and related topics. But it is mentioned now and again because it fits in with their overall complaints about the stifling of free-speech and thought. These people claim they’re ‘red-pilling’ a generation, and there’s some evidence, based on their massive popularity, that they are doing that (red-pilling = opening eyes to the authoritarian impulse behind a lot of politically correct identity politics). So while millennials don’t hugely question the climate change narrative, the younger ‘generation z’ increasingly has no time for it. Here’s a bit from a Forbes article on the change:
There has been much talk about the Millennial generation being entitled, lazy, and narcissistic. And while Millennials like myself were busy fending off the harsh criticisms and stereotypes constantly flung at our generation, a whole new demographic was slowly emerging from the shadows. Hello, Generation Z! The fiscally responsible, tattoo hating, Republican leaning group, touted by conservatives as their best hope for the future, and as the antithesis of Millennials.
While Millennials still remember cassette players and dial-up Internet, Generation Z grew up hounded by perpetual terrorist threats and school shootings reflecting on them from their Macbook and iPad screens.
They grew up watching Millennials entering the work force with thousands of dollars in school debt, and it seems that they are intent on not making the same mistakes as us.
According to research, Gen Z is more individualistic, more conservative both socially and fiscally, and they’re already making waves of impact on our political system. Gen Z, those born in 1995 or later, is possibly the most conservative generation since World War II, and it is worrying that their impact has been completely overlooked during this election. While our fears might be preemptive, we should not make the mistake of disregarding the intriguing yet also possibly worrying world views of Generation Z.
I know these are generalisations (and in another thread on the subject a young Gen Z’er responds with survey information showing, while more fiscally conservative than millennials, Z’ers are still 76% concerned about global warming) but still, the culture is shifting, even if glacially slow.
Tom: Ian, it is of course easy to focus on one age segment of the population–and it’s nice that you’re looking at a younger segment. Most of us on the non-consensus side have looked for hope at older folks (a group that includes many of us, including myself). But even if you’re bang on correct about Gen Z being conservative, that does not automatically place them in the skeptic/lukewarmer bucket. As a progressive liberal myself, I am used to reactions of astonished disbelief when I unburden myself of my opinions on climate change. And I have met many like me in the blogosphere. There are also many conservatives who do hold to the consensus view, whether through conviction or practical considerations… I am unconvinced that any generational segment will hold radically different ideas than the rest.
What hope I hold out is not related to political views. Rather, I think we should look for signs that climate change as an issue becomes part of the background noise of public conversation, eventually being relegated to ‘Whirrled Peas’ status in the speeches of beauty pageant contestants. Most of the (forgive me) heat will have been drained from the conversation and then honest dialogue will be possible.
I’ve written since 2009 that this would be a 30-year war. I’ve seen nothing that would change that view. I think our opposition has bigger battalions and bigger guns and were I a betting man, I would bet that they will win and we will lose. But our second hope also has potential–that the facts on the ground will change. The Pause didn’t change much–those who call us deniers are expert in the practice themselves–but a significant gain in Arctic ice, a few years of declines that can’t be hidden, some fortunate scientific discovery that puts the past century of temperature records in a different perspective, any or all of these could ride over the hill with banners flying and save the day.