Anti-intellectualism versus the science of climate change


The intense resistance by some to scientific findings on climate change is difficult to understand. Some climate change deniers present their case with zealot-like vehemence akin to a religious crusade. Their purpose is to undermine research and sow doubt in the wider public, encouraging the belief that the science is flawed so that dire, research-backed predictions can be dismissed. Such extremism cannot be put down to the extraordinary success of lobbyists driven by the financial whips applied by vested interests such as coal, transport, or manufacturing. Despite a “constructive” backdrop to global warming talks in Bonn this week, the results of their efforts, however, are easy to see in the growing uncertainty expressed by ordinary people and hesitancy of governments to take decisive steps to address climate change.

In the US commentators, including Paul Krugman, whose columns are published by this newspaper, have put it down to an anti-intellectualism; others talk of an anti-science bias. Certainly both can easily be found in the American psyche, and allow some to dismiss as bunkum the work of thousands of scientists worldwide.

Perhaps this is no surprise in a country where much of the population remains wedded to the idea that the Earth is no more than 6,000 years old. Yet the same people are happy to accept scientific findings that deliver new drugs, medical treatments and improved technologies.

There is marginally more scepticism in the US than in Europe to the pronouncements of science and confusion about how to respond to risks associated with climate change. But there is less hostility to science here and certainly no mainstream anti-intellectualism of the kind capable of producing the likes of the Tea Party movement. Yet on both sides of the Atlantic headway made in attempts to undermine the reality of climate change owes more to successful marketing than intellectual argument .

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