Sometimes, my society concerns me a bit. I mean, I love Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell, the Internet, smartphones,
computers, Apple products, and Tesla as much as the next guy, but let’s be frank: the US is known quite a bit for stupid things Americans say and do. (Despite many wonderful and brilliant things we’ve also contributed to the world.)
It’s embarrassing when you’re in Europe (where I’ve been living for nearly 8 years), you meet someone, and they bring up some “dumb American” stories they’ve seen in the news, and maybe ask if there are really a lot of people like that over there. (The other most common intro topics seem to be guns and the unfortunate obesity epidemic we’re in the midst of.)
But hey, the US is home to >300 million people, it’s the home of Hollywood, and our main language is spoken by >840 million people around the world. This all makes it easier for stories of stupidity to rise to the top of news machines and spread around the world.
This is the most positive explanation I’ve come up with over the years, but then somebody came along and demolished that justification.
The Donald took this topic to a whole nother level. Unwilling to leave well enough alone, he even went a step further this past week. He appointed Breitbart News Chairman Stephen Bannon as campaign CEO.
I won’t go on at length about Steve Bannon or Breitbart News, because that’s not the point of this article, but note that the former (until recently) editor-at-large of Breitbart News, who was in that position for four years, last week called Bannon “a legitimately sinister figure,” and ended that article with this: “I joked with friends months ago that by the end of the campaign, Steve Bannon would be running Trump’s campaign from a bunker. That’s now reality. Every nightmare for actual conservatives has come true in this campaign. Why not this one, too?”
Here are some of the beautiful, beautiful headlines from Breitbart News in recent months:
That’s what led me into this article.
Although the world is built on scientific progress today more than in any time in history, there is a shocking trend that seems to be growing in the US, a trend to not only ignore science but to mock it.
As I recently wrote, scientifically, the logical end of “business as usual” in the energy sector (burning fossil fuels for electricity and transport) is societal collapse. That’s a pretty crappy alternative compared to switching to cleantech that, aside from stopping global warming, makes our air and water cleaner, makes our cities and towns more livable, makes our economy better, and … well, really, do I need to go on?
Certain portions of the US population have become absurdly “anti science.” Before I go further, though, let’s just make something clear here: Science is observing or doing things in a methodical way that can later be repeated. Repeated enough times, with some decent theoretical backing, and getting the same results over and over again, you can start to make conclusions … based on evidence.
Yes, science can be done poorly — that’s the point of developing and using good methodology and then testing, testing, testing.
Yes, scientists can create horrible things. Look at the nuclear bomb, as one of many examples. Look at the many carcinogens that we’ve counterproductively produced for superficial reasons. But the overall point of science is that we learn.
The nuclear bomb may have been a crappy idea, but it would be pretty weird to deny it exists. Yet, that’s the kind of approach that has taken over large swaths of society. This approach has fostered the idea that things confirmed true by science are somehow not true, hoaxes, grand evil schemes from the New World Order and Illuminati.
The Donald’s rise to such a high place in political society isn’t just concerning because he falls into this anti-science crowd. It’s concerning because it seems to demonstrate how many people either 1) also fall into that crowd, or 2) don’t mind overlooking extreme anti-science and racist opinions and proposals.
And that brings me to an interesting bit that I wasn’t even thinking to go into at the beginning of this article — a bit that I didn’t even realize could be so deeply connected to the anti-science topic I wanted to dive into. The surprising yet not so surprising thing is that racism and anti–climate science tendencies may have a stronger connection than we’ve assumed.
Here’s an extended quotation from Peter Sinclair, who rounded up the Breitbart headlines and related videos above and below:
I get it that a lot of folks are uncomfortable dealing with this. I’m the only climate activist online that has consistently pointed out the peculiar, pernicious, but persistent connection between climate denial and racism.
When I started this project some 8 years ago, many folks cautioned me, “don’t use the term climate denier, it makes people think of holocaust denier, and that’s over the top”. I went ahead with it, because I believe calling things what they are is the only way we are ever going to find our way through this — and “climate denier” is now standard rhetoric for journalists and politicians alike, including the current President –because it is the only accurate descriptor for what we see playing out.
The connection between prejudice, resentment, and science denial may not be obvious, but tyrants, illusionists, and swindlers have known for millennia, if you want to control people, you have to freeze their ability to reason. Science, the respect for facts, reason and evidence, obviously, are among mankind’s most powerful tools for rooting out and rising above tyranny and brute force. Obviously, in many cases, this does not serve the interests of the powerful.
It will likely take psychologists and philosophers a long time to tease out the fundamentals of this, but — now that a climate denying political party has nominated a climate denying presidential candidate who has appointed a virulently racist and sexist white supremacist to head his campaign, and could conceivably bring that team into the most powerful office on earth, at a moment critical to the survival of civilization, and maybe, life on the planet — what should we make of this?
We know that Donald Trump is a global warming denier (at least, that’s the only viewpoint he’s offered on the topic), and we basically know that he’s a racist. But the thing is, he is seemingly not an anomaly — he is just the face and voice of what is presumably a fairly large subculture.
By the way, one interesting thing about subcultures is that, once they pull people in, it is the commonly conveyed opinion of that subculture (rather than any sound logic or facts) that convinces people what’s true or not. Surprisingly, once an idea is accepted (from a subculture you strongly identify with), a detailed debunking of that opinion is actually more likely to backfire than convince you of the reality of the situation. (This is something for all of us to watch out for.)
The scary thing is that there is a rather large subculture in the US (let’s be frank, in the political right wing of the US) that is constantly fueling both racism and global warming science denial, and even science denial in general.
Interestingly, as a book coming out about Trump relays to us, “For decades, Trump’s daily morning routine included a review of everything written or said about him in the previous twenty-four hours. The clippings were usually culled by Norma Foerderer – for two decades Trump’s ever-present chief assistant – who also handed her boss a spiral notebook contain media requests, most of which he would handle himself. As his celebrity grew, the daily pile of Trump related news coverage swelled; still, he diligently tried to review everything written or said about him. … He often handed the positive pieces to other visiting journalists as examples of how to do it right. No matter how famous he became, no publication was too small for a kind word about Trump to go unnoticed.”
As the actual author of The Art of the Deal has argued, The Donald is obsessed with how people see him probably more than anything else. He is obsessed with people only saying and writing great things about him. This is what reportedly drives him, even more than a desire for more money and more things.
Breitbart News has obsessively supported Trump as a candidate, even leading to several key staff members resigning due to the obvious and severely biased agenda, as well as racism and sexism at the media outlet that was apparently too much for these people to swallow. Naturally, Trump must have been fond of Breitbart’s coverage of him, and must have been increasingly pulled into that subculture. Media Matters notes that “Donald Trump has used his Twitter and Facebook accounts to promote Breitbart News articles at least 186 times — often sharing stories that fawned over him and his presidential campaign.” Rachel Maddow does a superb job of linking the “news” agency’s extremist messaging and Trump’s continuously shocking statements in the following clip.
Breitbart isn’t the only such media outlet, though, and I imagine The Donald had many of his craziest ideas ingrained in his head before he became fond of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon. It seems that Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh have been friends for several years, and Trump’s opinions seem to have been heavily influenced by Rush.
I hope I don’t have to explain who Rush Limbaugh is.
Okay, in case you have somehow been shielded from Limbaugh up till now, the summary is that he’s one of the media personalities most effective at stimulating hate, racism, sexism, and global warming denial in modern US history. Just check out the link above if you want a scary taste of the kinds of things he has said for years to a large, emotionally addicted, and increasingly angry audience.
Fox News is probably the most infamous media organization for this kind of focus, but Rush Limbaugh is probably the most infamous individual for it, and he can even make Fox News look moderate. The Donald has followed in his footsteps.
What is the point of all of this? (What’s the point of the article, I mean — not Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart News, Fox News, and Trump’s crusade against science and minorities.)
The point is to highlight how large and extreme an anti-science, racist subculture has become in the United States (and elsewhere, by the way — Europe is certainly not immune to this concerning disease).
The cleantech revolution is about putting into practice some of the best scientific progress we have made in order to utilize free solar, wind, and other renewable resources and thus stop the greatest threats to human livability and civilization that we have perhaps ever seen. I think it is important to understand that there is a large portion of society that is very anti-cleantech because it is very anti-science.
The question is, how do we bring more sanity to this large portion of the population?
As noted above, it is norms of the subculture that drive belief. It is not solid logic. My understanding is that certain rich individuals who benefit from polluting the planet were 1) more likely to belong to the subculture I’m discussing, and 2) were able to form strong partnerships with key media outlets and icons in this subculture, and that is why we have the situation we have today.
Their biggest agendas became common topics of this subculture’s most influential members. Their arguments, although based on faulty logic and methodology, looked research-based enough to instill strong beliefs regarding global warming, solar energy, wind energy, electric vehicles, and regulations into the overall belief system of this subculture.
Similar to how oil, natural gas, and coal externalities are important to the subculture CleanTechnica is a part of, anti-cleantech factors are important to Bannon & Limbaugh & Trump’s subculture. Obviously, I think their balancing of costs, benefits, and risks is absurdly incorrect, but how do we make inroads with that subculture in order to create positive change?
One might presume that there’s no hope, since the people who pull the strings have an agenda and that isn’t changing any time soon, but I prefer to be a bit more hopeful about potential solutions.
Tesla, in its segment of the market, has taken a rather simple but effective approach: make EVs the quickest, most cutting-edge, best vehicles on the planet. It still faces challenges with this subculture, but it has also won over many people simply by creating the quickest and most compelling cars a person can buy. (Note to cleantechies who don’t care about 0–60 mph times: this is one reason why I think the Ludicrous P100D is such an important step forward.)
Renewable energy maybe doesn’t have as easy of a path, since these are not products consumers interact with, but maybe it does. Renewable energy offers energy independence. Solar energy, in particular, offers self-reliance and energy democracy, as I emphasized recently. These are values that should resonate very well with the particular subculture Trump belongs to. They are values that influential members of the Tea Party have clung to.
Will these arguments get much traction on Breitbart News and Fox News? Probably not at first, but they offer a potential wedge. More thoughtful members of the subculture can push the importance of these things through the avenues they have in front of them. Powerful messaging and progress could be achieved around the importance of energy independence, self-reliance, and energy democracy. I think these are actually more effective avenues for change in this subculture than health and cost arguments at this point.
Does that directly challenge the anti-science and racism challenges? No, not really. I honestly don’t have any strong tips for how to handle those things — beyond better education and better integration with outsiders, neither of which can you make or easily convince them experience. However, if support for renewable energy and EVs gets strong enough, it will become much easier for members of this subculture to accept the scientific consensus on global warming, and perhaps that could also lead to more thoughtful and open-minded subcultures that slowly shrink the influence of the Rush Limbaughs, Steve Bannons, and Donald Trumps of the world. Perhaps.
Your thoughts on this topic?