Ross Douthat proposes an explanation for why Republicans are so wacky on climate change. He points out that there’s a strong strain of climate change denial in the American public, one that’s also present in other countries.
What’s interesting, though, is that if you look at public opinion on climate change, the U.S. isn’t actually that much of an outlier among the wealthier Western nations. In a 2007-2008 Gallup survey on global views of climate change, for instance, just 49 percent of American told pollsters that human beings are responsible for global warming. But the same figure for Britain (where Rush Limbaugh has relatively few listeners, I believe) was 48 percent, and belief in human-caused climate change was only slightly higher across northern Europe: 52 percent in the Czech Republic, 59 percent in Germany, 49 percent in Denmark, 51 percent in Austria, just 44 percent in the Netherlands, with highs of 63 percent in France and 64 percent in Sweden.
OK, let’s provisionally accept that. Where Douthat goes next, though, is weird; he argues that it is an advantage of our political leaders in the US that they are more representative of the electorate, and that our politicians are simply tracking polls to win votes.
It’s all nonsense. Kooky right-wingers like Inhofe and Angle and Miller and Rubio and on and on are not canny, cunning politicians who are cynically following the wishes of the people — they are True Believers, ideologues who promote, rather than merely follow. What it really indicates is that Republican voters are willing to put morons into office, while voters in all those other Western nations retain some dignity and insist on a louder hint of credibility in their representatives.
It’s also not true that the Republican leadership better reflects the popular consensus. “97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming, but 97% of GOP Senate candidates disagree.” What it actually tells us is that Republicans are more willing to charge off into the fringe than the general electorate.
And most importantly, climate change is a scientific issue, one that has an evidence-based answer, not something that can be swayed by popular opinion. It is not a virtue to to obey the whims of an ignorant populace to pursue a position contrary to fact.