Thursday, July 19, 2007

How Confusion and Cynicism Help Bolster Conservatism

This article about public attitudes toward global warming does a lot to illustrate how much easier it is to play defense than offense when it comes to changing social attitudes. Here are the key grafs:
The survey [by British bank HSBC]shows that in many Western European countries where green messages are ubiquitous, there are, paradoxically, the fewest people who say climate change is among their biggest concerns.

In supposedly green-minded Britain and Germany, terrorism and children's futures outrank climate change. Only 22 percent of British respondents and 26 percent of Germans identified climate change as among their top concerns, while only 19 percent of Britons and 25 percent of Germans said they were making a significant effort to help reduce climate change through their lifestyles.

Those polled Britons and Germans, HSBC said, are "skeptical pessimists." They are downbeat about finding a solution to climate change and suspicious of companies exploiting the issue for financial gain and governments using it to raise taxes.

The attitude of young Europeans aged 18-24 is most striking. Some don't even accept the science underlying climate change.
Now, I'm not that concerned about the fact that only a fifth to a quarter of Europeans say they are making "a significant effort" to change their lifestyles because of environmental concerns. Actually I think that's pretty high, and probably a lot higher than the figure you would have gotten ten years ago. (I suppose it's also higher than the percentage of people who are actually changing their lives in a significant way, but that's how polling works.)

However, I think the description of younger Europeans as being both "skeptical" and "pessimistic" is fascinating. Note what this means: Those polled either don't believe that global warming is really happening, or believe that nothing can be done to stop it--or both.

Now this is obviously a tad self-contradictory . . . one might even say absurdly illogical. But that makes no difference to the business interests and the hard-right ideologues who want to prevent serious action on the environment. They like it when people exhibit this sort of confusion, because it encourages them to throw up their hands and accept paralysis. And no matter which of the two contradictory messages people end up absorbing, the do-nothing gang wins!

It's an interesting playing field we compete on. The progressives must craft a compelling, consistent, convincing narrative that will change the way people think, feel, and behave, while the reactionaries are under no such obligation. All they need to do is sow enough seeds of doubt to get people to give up on social concerns and switch their TVs back to sports or "American Idol."

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