Become What You Despise? Why "Beating" Conservative White Male Climate Deniers May Mean Joining Them

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David Roberts of Grist has written a wonderful and psychologically deep portrait of why conservative white males deny climate change—and much else—and how this is an unshakeable part of their political identities. He concludes that you can’t sway them, so you have to just beat them, politically, with activism and votes.

To do that, Roberts adds, you need not to move to the center, but to stoke intensity on the part of your base. So that’s what we need to focus on:

….perhaps the answer is not to reduce intensity in hopes of attracting CWM. Perhaps the answer is to increase intensity in order to overcome CWM. Intensity is increased first and foremost through organizing, but also through clear, inspiring messages that draw sharp lines between those fighting for progress and those fighting against it.

The implicit premise of climate “pragmatism” and similar efforts is that CWM are stronger, that climate hawks can’t win a direct clash. And for now, that seems to be true. Beating back the radical conservative resurgence is something that nobody on the left has figured out yet. But the alternative, attempting to win over CWM by soft-pedaling climate, doesn’t exactly have a record of success either.

Roberts is so close, and yet also so far.

Everything he says about the psychology of conservatives is right on, and there are actually multiple studies proving it. But he says nothing about the psychology of liberals–which is basically the flipside of what he says about his “CWMs.”

This means that, while there may be exceptions, for the most part liberals-slash-envirionmentalists are not going to be as opinion intense or as unified as conservatives. They are going to disagree and squabble more amongst themselves. They are going to focus not on being the same as one another and being unified, but on being different and unique–disunified, and disorganized.

So how do you make liberals into the true and non-oxymoronic “climate hawks” that Roberts wants to see? It’s incredibly hard. Just look at the spats that erupt constantly on the center and left over climate policy, and how everybody is balkanized and in a completely different camp from those who are only half a political degree away from them on a 360 degree spectrum.

Look at the repeated internecine fights we’ve had over the “End of Environmentalism,” over framing, and over whether messaging should focus on talking about clean energy or about the science of climate.

Or, just count how many different environmental groups there are.

Or, just watch the Monty Python bit about the People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean People’s Front.

You get the point, I think.

So what’s the solution?

I’d say the beginning of the solution is to teach liberals and environmentalists about their own psychology–they’re often clueless about this, all the way up to the White House, apparently. And then call a summit to see if they will actually finally behave in a unified way.

The problem is, you’d better not make it a summit in which everybody gets to have an equal say, and there is no “leader” calling the shots. So you have to design a highly structured agenda at a highly organized and businesslike meeting. And then you have to hope that all these liberal environmentalists will return home and stick to it and implement it…see the problem here?

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