A River of Denial: Climate Change, Taxes & Debt


It’s not surprising to learn, from the Public Policy Institute of California, that people throughout the state look less favorably at nuclear power since the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan,  that they remain divided by party on the question of drilling offshore, or that they strongly support auto fuel efficiency standards and state regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

No, the number in PPIC’s most recent survey that jumped out at us was this: more than one third of Republican likely voters in California believe “the effects of global warming . . . will never happen.” We kid you not.

That this is so actually makes perfect sense. There exists in the population a substantial group of people for whom denial has become an ideological construct. These are individuals who refuse to accept, or minimize, or avoid responsibility for certain uncomfortable facts despite overwhelming evidence.

Once the realm of psychoanalysis – first postulated by Sigmund Freud and researched by his daughter Anna – denial has evolved into a political theology, provoked and goaded by mercenary pseudoscientists and right-wing yakkers.

It is the ideology of denial that underlay the thinking in Sacramento that without extending modest taxes enacted by a Republican governor, California could avoid tragic cutbacks to education, higher education and social services. It’s the ideology that is guiding tea-party-petrified congresspeople to insist that it will not matter if the “full faith and credit” of the United States government is downgraded to junk-bond status.

It is, of course, a form of madness. But it has become the world view of a significant body of people. It’s this ideological world view – certain, rigid and unyielding — that prevents any form of reasonable and productive compromise in our political systems.

This is what former Vice President Al Gore was talking about the other day when he wrote:

Dramatic changes in the way we communicate with one another about issues affecting the common good have diminished the role of reason and fact-based analysis, encouraging ideological extremists to construct their own alternative version of reality and defend it against fact-based reasoning.

It’s what the New York Times was talking about in an editorial titled “A Denial of Reality:”

How can so many Republican lawmakers justify pushing their country toward catastrophic default just to score ideological points? The answer can be found in their statements and writings: They are constructing an alternative reality far different from that of most Americans.

The mainstream news media, including the New York Times itself, bears much of the blame for the rise of this alternate reality for its chicken-livered failure to label falsehoods, to deconstruct false equivalencies, to call out chicanery and manipulation – in short, to seek to maintain its “neutrality” when one side presents facts and the other presents fiction. In today’s pitched battle against aggressive, willful ignorance, emulating Switzerland during World War II won’t cut it.

If you don’t believe that denial is ideological, look at the findings PPIC pulled out for Calbuzz. Here’s the question:

Which of the following statements reflects your view of when the effects of global warming will begin to happen: They have already begun to happen; they will start happening within a few years; they will start happening within your lifetime; they will not happen in your lifetime but will affect future generations; they will never happen.

Likely Party Reg Ideology
Voters Dem Rep Ind Lib Mod Con
Already begun 57 73 35 61 79 61 36
Few years 3 5 1 4 4 4 2
Lifetime 8 10 7 5 9 9 6
Future generations 10 6 14 13 4 12 14
Never 18 5 35 14 3 11 36
Don’t know 4 1 7 4 0 4 6


On the one hand you have Democrats and independents, liberals and moderates. On the other hand you have Republicans and conservatives. This is what the Calbuzz Department of Abacus Cadabra calls “significant.”

(BTW: We think “climate change” is a more appropriate term than “global warming,” but that’s another discussion.)

There are lots of other interesting findings in the PPIC survey, including this:

In a year that has seen both lingering economic distress and extreme weather across the nation, most Californians continue to support the state’s climate change policy. Most believe global warming is a serious threat to the state’s future economy, with 47 percent seeing it as a very serious threat and 28 percent saying it is somewhat serious.

The principle behind AB 32—the California law requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020—enjoys majority support (67% favor, 21% oppose, 11% don’t know). Most (57%) believe that the state government should make its own policies, separate from the federal government’s, to address global warming.

This issue, you may recall, was one Calbuzz pointed to throughout the governor’s race last year as a problem for Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, who cast themselves against California’s historic climate change legislation and thus on the wrong side of an issue on which they could have appeared more moderate.

But that’s the ongoing problem for Republicans in California: how to get themselves on the side of touchstone issues, like climate change, where most of the voters are. Complicating the challenge, for thoughtful Republicans, is the ignoramus wing of their party that is driven by denial.

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There are 11 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    First, let’s be clear that most Republicans do not hold to conservative principles which include conservation and no foreign wars. Neo-cons is the polite term for what they are.
    Second, if you search the news over the last three years — and especially this year — you will find that the number of weather-related records being broken is soaring. Heat, cold, rain, drought, storms — yes, it’s already started. And if we immediately ended our polluting ways, it would take about thirty years before the worst was over. The blood is on the hands of the deniers, which they will, of course, deny.
    There may be a bright side, however. The weather may force the war-mongers to shift resources from nation-building in Afghanistan to fixing our own country.

  2. avatar marcdanziger says:

    PJ, you don’t do yourself any favors with this one. As a former slide-rule owning numbers geek, the quality of data in the AGW arguments never impressed me. But I’m not a climate scientist. But Judith Curry is – the runs the program at Georgia Tech, and you’d do well to read some of her writing (here is her blog – http://judithcurry.com/ ) before standing with the “science is settled” crowd. It isn’t and a lot more humility and transparency by the AGW proponents would be a Really Good Thing.
    Then we can start talking policy…

  3. avatar pdperry says:

    Sorry. There’s a BIG difference between global warming and climate change.

    The question was regarding global warming.

    And trotting out ManBearPig as a beacon of reasonableness in the discussion wasn’t your best choice, unless you’re just preaching to the choir.

  4. avatar GOGREEN says:

    “And if we immediately ended our polluting ways, it would take about thirty years before the worst was over. The blood is on the hands of the deniers, which they will, of course, deny.” What??? I totally disagree. The “blood” would be on everyones hands. Re-read your statement. If it would take 30 years to undo this, and the “deniers” have only been denying for the last 3 to 5 years… henhe blod is on all of our hands. But you would rater blame it on the “deniers?” Hey I know, maybe we should blame Bush!

    As an advocate for the “change” — the real problem going forward is the fact that every single project that is looking to bring “green” energy is facing potential litigation. If we don’t fix the ability to get to “green” energy — the “blood” will be on the hands of those filing the lawsuits preventing the projects from moving forward. Here’s the shocker: most of these projects are facing opposition from well organized environmental groups. Yes some of them are also NIMBYs — but project developers have greater fear from those organized groups with that have deep foundation dollars behind them — these are the groups that kill projects.

    CAISO (these are the folks who run the grid) last week said that there are 71K MWs of green projects in the piepeline — but that they expect a large number to “fall out” of the process because of the major hurdles they face (privaelyone official told me they expect 60-70% failure) — yes, some projects (personally speaking) should have never made it onto the list — but the good ones, the ones with financing and contracts from th utilities are in danger due to litigation… these worry me. If a project with a contract and financing is killed by a well organized environmental group — financing for the next project may never materialize.

    I think we will eventually get to “green” energy — or at least more than we have today — but it will take patience, and a big fix to how the regulatory process provides the avenues to get there. And hopefully a hard look at the kinds of lawsuits that are being filed by the very people that called on government to institute the green policies in the first instance.

    • avatar OC Progressive says:

      There are definitely ways to streamline the process of getting large alternative energy projects on line. The first is for the utilities to actually start anticipating the environmental issues and working in advance with the regulatory agencies and the major environmental groups. It’s not rocket science, and the environmental groups are eager to participate. Probably a good idea to give enough funding to the agencies so they have people to support and accelerate the approval process, too.

      But instead of advancing cooperation on solar projects PG&E spent 46.5 million dollars trying to pass proposition 16, a vile plan to prevent development of alternative energy choice.

      And while we are waiting for the big projects, the smarter alternative, which doesn’t require huge changes to the grid, is to localize solar production on millions of rooftops. This could be facilitated by streamlining the local approval process and pushing down fees.

    • avatar GOGREEN says:

      The problem witht he smaller alternatives is that they must still be plugged into the bigger system. Distributed generation — as it is known — is not without problems. Too much distributed generation (not that we are in real danger of that–an I do applaud the Governor for starting the debate) requires upgrades to the aging system of distribution. We are already seeing huge fluctuations in the SD are where the systems have been installed. I know we would rather not take a utilities word for it — but the system was not designed with DG in mind. We have to modify it and that will take time and significant debate on the “who will pay for the upgrade” question. The dabte will eventually take place — and the folks at the CPUC will eventually be charged with opening up a hearing process and 3 years later we will find out how it’s supposed to work. This will be follwoed by 3 more years of arguments by the IOUs and the consummer groups and then we will finally have a program moving “int he right direction.” Don’t believe me? AB 32 was passed in 2006… The original RPS bill? 2003.

  5. avatar pedronava says:

    This same poll claims a more favorable public position toward offshore oil drilling. Please tell me PPIC didn’t use the same flawed question they have been using for the last 10 years. If it is the same, the responses are unreliable because the particular question has 2 parts and you can’t be sure which one is being answered.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      Actually, in response to issues raised about their earlier question, PPIC did not ask the offshore oil drilling question using the following introduction they had used in the past: “Thinking about the country as a whole, to address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources, do you favor or oppose the following proposals?” You can see the results yourself at http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/survey/S_711MBS.pdf

  6. avatar toje says:

    As usual, the questions these polls posit demand extremely simplistic answers in order to pigeon-hole the respondents (not to mention the slanting of questions to achieve similar, predetermined outcomes). I believe that a significant number of republicans, like myself, believe the following regarding climate change. 1. The climate is changing, and the fact that there are now approx. 6 billion people on the planet has something to do with it. 2. If (as Al says) all nations must do as he says in order to stave off the effects, then the “solution” is impossible to achieve. 3. for California to additionally hamstring itself with additional requirements is poor governance. 4. Climate has always changed, and we would be better off adapting than trying to reverse a global phenomenon.

  7. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    “…all nations must do as he says …” Well, that tells us right there where toje is coming from, doesn’t it?

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