Denial As a Way of Life

Climate denial is closely related to debt-ceiling denial.

Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil –Believe No Evil?

As it turns out, many of the same people who deny that climate change is a problem also deny that government default would be a problem.  No doubt there are several reasons: the fact that Barack Obama is on the opposite side of both issues; the general impermeability of ideologues to facts or expert opinion; a general suspicion of elite views.  But I’d like to suggest that there is also a deeper belief about the invulnerability of systems to outside shocks, either on the view that the system is very loosely linked or has a very strong tendency to return to equilibrium. These are actually a bit contradictory since strong corrective forces imply tight linkage, but most people don’t notice that.

For example, you might think that changing one atmospheric gas wouldn’t really have much impact on the world or that counteracting forces like increased use of CO2 by plants would come into play.  Or, you might think that making a few bondholders wait a bit to get paid wouldn’t be a big deal, or that it wouldn’t really happen because Treasury would come up with a response to avoid it.

There are actually some strong common elements here.  Both climate change and a significant U.S. default are unprecedented historically, so we can’t rely directly on past experience.  Both involve systemic risks, which by their nature are less frequent and less easily understood than an action’s immediate impacts. And in both cases, the deniers are not merely saying that the outcome is uncertain — which would still lead to serious precautions because the potential harm is so great — but denying that there’s any possibility of a bad outcome.

That means that all the experts are either incompetent or lying, but once we’re willing to leap over that problem, it’s not hard to reject their views. If you’re going to reject the views of nearly all climate scientists, why not reject the views of nearly all economists?  In for a penny, in for a pound.

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Reader Comments

2 Replies to “Denial As a Way of Life”

  1. Dear Dan,
    There is one thing that we deniers cannot deny – the price of gasoline is much lower in Texas than California. Today gas was selling for $2.75/gal in Houston. This is a source of enduring comfort for those of us who live here. Fracking in Texas has given ordinary citizens the good life and a higher standard-of-living that is no longer remotely possible in California. The price of gasoline has continued to drop since the government shut-down, this is truly progressive. The great State of Texas transcended climate change a long time ago and believe me – life is better without it. Come to Texas, bring your family and leave your anxiety behind. Your children will bless you.
    Cheers

  2. So all “deniers”, as you call them, deny ANY possibility of a bad outcome due to man-made increased CO2. Are you sure? I think you are over-simplifying it. It is not that black and white. There are those are both sides of the argument that make outrageous statements.

    The calculation to determine how much to spend to fight global warming, and where the break-even point is a very complicated one. No one has the answer, not even the experts. Not ALL experts agree that Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) is occurring. I don’t believe we have any true EXPERTS on this subject. Our collective knowledge is just not sufficient yet. So what do you do without the required information?

    The common thread between CAGW and defaulting on the national debt is not about science or economics, it is politics. What is the proper size of government and how much governmental interference on the market is correct? If you believe more government / less market forces is good, you lean Democratic. If you don’t you lean Republican. This is another difficult question to answer. There are too many that pretend to have the correct answer.

    As for having a general suspicion with experts, it is worth remembering these quotes:

    “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts” – Richard Feynman
    “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” – Niels Bohr

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Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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