TPM Cafe: Opinion

Erick Erickson Really Wants You To Know He Doesn't Care About Climate Change

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It’s easy to overstate Erickson’s importance (he’s perfectly capable of doing that on his own) but his climate tantrum shows a lot about the psychology of climate change denial.

In tone and form, it’s remarkably like Erickson’s pre-election-day blast in 2012, where he predicted that Mitt Romney would likely defy the polls and win, but added that even if Obama won, well, the world is corrupt and destined for hell-fire anyway.

In Wednesday’s diatribe, the heat in question is more atmospheric than demonic, but it leads Erickson to a similar conclusion: the numbers are probably wrong, but even if they’re right, oh well, we’re all doomed anyway.

If they are right and the world is warming, there is nothing we can do short of economic Armageddon to stop it.

Having laid out the only two options he’ll allow — either it’s all made up or we’re screwed — Erickson picks the former as his preferred option.

Since the notion of potentially-catastrophic man-made climate change is not congenial to him, he is forced to argue his way backward from his conclusion to a fantasy cause.

I think many of those involved in the science of global warming oppose capitalism in general and the United States in particular. I think they are manufacturing a panic and their solutions are designed to hinder economic progress.

Erickson has to convince himself that huge numbers of people want to believe in climate change, as a matter of religious faith. Behind nearly the entire scientific community, Erickson has to make himself believe, is the sinister hand of the United Nations and Al Gore, working to cripple economic progress because they hate economic progress on its own merits. Around the world, researchers have buckled under or signed on, and have all agreed to falsify things in the same way.

For his story to be true, Erickson has to tell himself that people make up the underlying scientific principles, make up data, even make up visible existing effects, requiring a coordinated plot of James-Bond-villain proportions.

Maybe Al Gore has teams of Gaia-worshipping mountaineering commandos who take blowtorches to the Teton Glacier at his command? Maybe, using a time machine, he’s been personally chipping away at tens of thousands of glaciers for decades?

The point is, confronted by the unpleasant need to acknowledge climate change and make policy choices to deal with it, Erickson deliberately chooses to retreat into a more-pleasing fiction.

Business Insider’s Rob Wile said recently that “it's hard to discern what lies at the root of climate deniers' logic.” But I don’t think it’s all that difficult. Erickson all but says it outright.

Manmade climate change is upsetting. It is already certain to have negative effects, and the path to mitigating it will require policy changes. Even if you don’t build a castle-in-the-sky explanation like Erickson, it’s easy to find ways to reject this fact, to see it as more contested than it is, further off than it is, less bad than it seems.

I, too, would like it to be the case that reliance on fossil fuels for energy isn't causing future catastrophe and doesn't need changing. That would be a better outcome!

Dealing with it will mean some level of disruption. The impulse to reject it instead, as an ideological fiction, is understandable.

In the end, Erickson’s blustery aggression against his dreamed-of malign conspiracy blustery aggression is just a paper-thin layer of toughness over a sad, scared core.

Even among those who accept the science, you get a lot of softer versions of Erickson’s point.

At some point, though, we need to choose between disruption now and massively worse outcomes for people in the future. Erickson, forced to choose, admits he opts for the latter.

“Let the seas rise. Let the wind blow. We can adapt,” Erickson says. Great! Tell us how we adapt, and what it will cost, and then compare that to the costs of policy change now. That’s a much more productive conversation than trying to conjure up a scary U.N.-Al Gore collaboration to attack America and markets.

Erickson’s fan-fiction take on this issue would be delightful if it belonged to one guy with a blog. Unfortunately, it’s carrying weight in the political process. Not that long ago, GOP politicians like Newt Gingrich and John McCain acknowledged climate change and wanted to find policy solutions. But over time, a large-scale version of Erickson’s foot-stomping has expanded to dominate the party. Even noting the scientific consensus on climate is seen as suspect. Wayne Gilchrest, a moderate Republican from Maryland, learned about the GOP shift on climate the hard way.

Gilchrest’s face reddened, when he spoke of Harris, who ousted him from office in the 2008 GOP primary.

‘He held a series of public hearings and town meetings around the 1st District, in which he was trying to debunk the science of climate change,’ Gilchrest said.

Now, about the best you’ll get out of a Republican officeholder is that he or she is “not a scientist.” The most honest Republican answer to “what do we do about climate change?” came from Liz Cheney: “Nothing.” And if Republicans take the Senate, Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe will chair the Environment and Public Works Committee — and he literally wrote the book on claiming climate change is a hoax.

Erickson’s defiance against the phantom Gaia-worshipping armies would just be delightfully weird if it wasn’t held by people in positions of power and influence.

Fortunately, Erickson’s decidedly in the minority, and he knows it. This week the Washington Post’s editorial board notes:

a solid majority of Americans favors action to curb greenhouse emissions. As with the recent national shift on gay marriage, feelings on climate change will eventually move more decisively.

Still, the power of Erickson-esque conservatives in Congress, and the financial pull of the fossil fuel industry, are continuing to thwart efforts to tackle climate legislatively.

We’ve squandered a lot of years where we could have made changes with a bigger long-term effect. The longer we wait to do something the harder it gets. The Washington Post says we’re “reaching a put up or shut up moment.” Erick Erickson’s response is to stick his fingers in his ears and yell “shut up.”

It’s all well and good that Erick Erickson doesn’t care about climate change. That’s his prerogative. What we should worry about is when the people who make policy don’t care.

Seth D. Michaels is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. He's on Twitter as @sethdmichaels.