Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tea Party versus Reality

First, let me digress a bit with a talk about how difficult it can be to get a firm grasp on some political questions. For example, I have heard (or heard of) two different interviews with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in the past year or so. From my memory, in the two talks, Greenspan gave completely different philosophies on taxes and government deficit spending. What is Greenspan's view on deficit spending? Why did I perceive two different opinions? Well, I might have heard him incorrectly one or both times; Greenspan might have misspoken or he changed his mind; he himself might not have sufficiently developed his own opinions in order to realize the contradictions. Or I might not know enough about economics to comprehend a highly nuanced theory. Furthermore, what does it matter what Greenspan's opinions are? Will knowledge that Greenspan himself weighed in on one side or the other of this issue immediately change any partisans' minds? Probably not. So, to a large degree, political questions of this type may be "unknowable" or hopelessly intractable.

I might not know much about economics, but I know a thing about how cold I've been over the past twenty years, and in twenty years of discussion with friends and family members about how cold it was for them across the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I know that it's gotten warmer since 1973, by my own direct observation. If however scientists were able to come up with a scientific explanation that says I was wrong in my direct observations, I probably should listen. But they haven't.

What if I were to consult the scientific consensus and it were to confirm my own personal observation that the earth (and the Eastern Seaboard) were in fact warming, AND political activists of a certain political persuasion tell me that the earth is cooling? How likely is that the political activists would be right, and my personal observations are wrong, and the compiled scientific data are also wrong? I think it's pretty unlikely.

This is my response to a poll by the Pew Research Center on climate change. They asked all kinds of questions related to policy decisions, and I don't care about that. I did not quote any policy-related poll data below. Maybe the question of what is the best policy is another unanswerable, intractable question. Similarly, the poll says that there's about a 20% of the populate across the board who believe that the earth is warming, but it's not due to human pollution. Fair enough: it's interesting that this one view does not correlate to any political orientation. But is anyone in the room stubbornly denying reality itself? I think it's pretty obvious here.

What is completely alarming is the response to the question of whether the earth were warming at all. The poll answers here show an amazing sensitivity to political affiliation. Seventy percent of Tea Party Republicans believe that there is no warming. Fourteen percent of Democrats have the same denial of reality. This is sad. If you're completely wrong, most likely denying your own observation of reality, on one point, how many other points can you be wrong on?

Global Warming Poll, originally uploaded by pterandon.


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