As the author of a 1998 book tilted Talking So People Will Listen, I perked up when an article within the September issue of The Atlantic was brought to my attention: How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Listen by Charles C. Mann — which offers some noteworthy insights.
Mann is obviously a believer in anthropogenic (or man-made) climate change, making his observations all the more interesting. Much of his essay is spent deriding the left for the unrestrained rhetoric it uses to "scare Americans into action." He says: "the chatter itself, I would argue, has done its share to stall progress."
Within his argument is some history and context that is illustrative for those who see climate change as cyclical — something natural that has happened before and will happen again, rather than something that is new, scary, and human-caused. Those of us who believe the climate changes, but that human activity is, certainly, not the primary driver, struggle to understand the cult-like following of alarmists like Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org — who Mann spends several paragraphs criticizing.
A careful reader will realize that today's climate hysteria has less to do with the climate and more to do with control and economic change.
Mann starts his history lesson with Paul Erlich, author of The Population Bomb (1968) — which Mann calls "a foundational text in the environmental movement." He points out that Erlich's "predictions didn't pan out." Instead of being discrediting, Erlich's work, somehow, gave birth to what Mann calls "environmental politics."
Using acid rain as an example, Mann points out: "environmentalists meanwhile found out the problems were less dire than they had claimed" and that "Today, most scientists have concluded that the effects of acid rain were overstated to begin with."
I found this point Mann makes most interesting: "Environmental issues became ways for politicians to signal their clan identity to supporters." He observes: "As symbols, the ideas couldn't be compromised." And, he states: "climate change is perfect for symbolic battle." He calls carbon dioxide "a side effect of modernity."
Mann accuses McKibben of stoking concern "Erlich-style." Mann explains: "The only solution to our ecological woes, McKibben argues, is to live simpler, more local, less resource-intensive existences" — which McKibben believes "will have the happy side effect of turning a lot of unpleasant multinational corporations to ash." He concludes his section on McKibben with this: "McKibbenites see carbon dioxide as an emblem of a toxic way of life."
Toward the end, Mann states: "the environment has become a proxy for a tribal battle." He doesn't state what the tribes are, but from the preceding pages, it is clear that he means the left and the right; the Democrats and the Republicans; those who want to turn corporations to ash, denounce capitalist greed, and force humanity into a straitjacket of rural simplicity — and those who understand that the industrial revolution, the market economy, and "cheap energy from fossil fuels" have been "an extraordinary boon to humankind."
Yes, Mann is correct. "The environment has become a proxy for a tribal battle." But, as Mann points out, the climate alarmists scare tactics aren't working — only 20 percent of likely U.S. voters believe the scientific debate about global warming is over. He believes it is because they "don't know how to talk about climate change." I believe people are smarter than he gives them credit for. They have heard the "chatter." They've seen, that like Erlich, the "predictions didn't pan out."