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Err against extinction – climate psychology biases in favor of catastrophe

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Err against extinction – climate psychology biases in favor of catastrophe.

Cass 17 Oren Cass, Senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, J.D. from Harvard University. [The Problem with Climate Catastrophizing, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2017-03-21/problem-climate-catastrophizing?cid=int-lea&pgtype=hpg]//BPS
And yet, such catastrophizing is not justified by the science or economics of climate change. The well-established scientific consensus that human activity is causing the climate to change does not extend to judgments about severity. The most comprehensive and often-cited efforts to synthesize the disparate range of projections—for instance, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Obama administration’s estimate of the “Social Cost of Carbon”—consistently project real but manageable costs over the century to come. To be sure, more speculative worst-case scenarios abound. But humanity has no shortage of worst cases about which people succeed in remaining far calmer: from a global pandemic to financial collapse to any number of military crises. What, then, explains the prevalence of climate catastrophism? One might think that the burgeoning field of climate psychology would offer answers. But it is itself a bastion of catastrophism, aiming to explain and then reform the views of anyone who fails to grasp the situation’s desperate severity. The Washington Post offers “the 7 psychological reasons that are stopping us from acting on climate change.” Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions introduces its guide to “The Psychology of Climate Change Communication” by posing the question: “Why Aren’t People More Concerned About Climate Change?” In its 100-page report, the American Psychological Association notes that “emotional reactions to climate change risks are likely to be conflicted and muted,” before considering the “psychological reasons people do not respond more strongly to the risks of climate change.” The document does not address the possibility of overreaction. Properly confronting catastrophism is not just a matter of alleviating the real suffering of many well-meaning individuals. First and foremost, catastrophism influences public policy. Politicians regularly anoint climate change the world’s most important problem and increasingly describe the necessary response in terms of a mobilization not seen since the last world war. During her presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton promised a “climate map room” akin to Roosevelt’s command center for the global fight against fascism. Rational assessment of cost and benefit falls by the wayside, leading to questions like the one de Blasio posed in Rome: “How do we justify holding back on any effort that may meaningfully improve the trajectory of climate change?” Catastrophism can also lead to the trampling of democratic norms. It has produced calls for the investigation and prosecution of dissenters and disregard for constitutional limitations on government power. In The Atlantic, for example, Peter Beinart offered climate change as his first justification for an Electoral College override of the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. The Supreme Court has taken the unprecedented step of halting implementation of the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s signature climate policy, before a lower court even finished considering its constitutionality; his law-school mentor, professor Larry Tribe, likened the “power grab” of his star pupil’s plan to “burning the Constitution.” The alternative to catastrophism is not complacency but pragmatism. Catastrophists typically condemn fracked natural gas because, although it results in much lower greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, it does not move the world toward the zero-emissions future necessary to avert climate change entirely. Yet fracking has done more in recent years to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in the United States than all renewable energy investments combined. It has boosted U.S. economic growth as well. The idea that humanity might prepare for and cope with climate change through adaptation is incompatible with catastrophists’ outlook. Yet if the damage from climate damage can be managed, anticipating challenges through research and then investing in smart responses offers a more sensible path than blocking the construction of pipelines or subsidizing the construction of wind turbines. Catastrophists countenance progress only if it can be fueled without carbon-dioxide emissions. Yet given the choice, bringing electricity to those who need it better insulates them from any climate threat than does preventing the accompanying emissions. The cognitive fault lines separating catastrophists from others cause both sides to reach radically different conclusions from the same information. Catastrophists assume that their interpretation is correct, and so describe other thinking as distorted. But if the catastrophists have it wrong, perhaps the distortions are theirs.
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