Its winter where I live, and its a doozy. Weve had snow to sea level and frosts like I remember from the 1990s, and this year New Zealands annual 100-year flood happened to hit my town I have the good fortune of living on a slight rise, but less than a block away people were wading. Naturally people are arguing this shows global warming isnt happening. Of course that gets it all backwards. If youre standing outside a tramping hut in the mountains on a sunny morning, and a shovelful of snow falls off the roof and goes down your neck, you end up colder, but its because the roof is warming up (and melting the snow). The roof in this analogy stands for the South Polar Vortex, where the air around Antarctica gets so cold in the winter that it slams down, walling off the polar weather from the rest of us. Usually. Up until now.
Recently, we found out that New Zealand is a world front-runner in climate change denial. The good news is it only takes 13% to be a world front-runner. But I guess this is where we finally kiss our vaunted clean, green image goodbye. Though admitting how were actually doing on the environmental front would instantly lose us our world market for dairy products, tourism, and filming locations, which put together are nearly our entire national income, so maybe not. Actually shaping up is, of course, out of the question. That would cost rich people money.
Im not going to rehearse all the evidence that human industry is driving climate change; that would take far more time and energy than I have, it would be too wordy to hold any deniers attention long enough to convince them, and there are plenty of other sites that do it better than I could here are three. I will spare a brief word for the idea that humans are too puny and insignificant to affect the cycles of Nature. Thats an intuitive percept rather than an evidential argument, so it needs an intuitive answer.
Ill confidently bet that practically all my readers are reading this in a built-up environment of some kind, or at least a farm, not out in the wilderness. Well, Earth was all wilderness until humans came along. The last thing that changed the surface of the planet as much as humans have was the emergence of the first land plants and animals back in the Carboniferous Period. For hundreds of millions of years the world was forests, deserts, plains, savannah. Then suddenly, in less than a ten-thousandth of that time farms, buildings, quarries, mines, roads, towns, reservoirs, aqueducts, cities, railways, landfills, sewage outfalls. Is it really so hard to believe our activities might have had unintended environmental effects as profound as the intended ones? No, we arent big enough to chop down the entire tree of life on Earth, but we could easily break off the branches holding up our own treehouse.
But I dont think thats the main reason why New Zealanders dont believe in climate change. I think the main reason looks like this:
No, Im not accusing Cameron Slater of running New Zealands denialist platform singlehandedly, though he does have disproportionate influence for a blogger (which is why Im not linking to his blog; Google whale oil if you want to find him). Its the expression Im talking about, and the attitude underneath it. I am quite familiar with it; this is the look on a playground bullys face right before he hits you. This face is what comes to my mind when people wax poetic about the good old sports-loving, beer-drinking, do-it-yourselfing, supposedly-maligned Kiwi Bloke. Because this is also the face of a New Zealand male when someone tries to alert him to a problem that doesnt, as far as he can see, affect him personally.
Its not just climate change. The Bloke Sneer is the standard response to a precaution recommended against any harm that hasnt so far materialized in the Blokes own life. Boating safety measures, for instance. Hence (I surmise) why New Zealand men drown at such high rates. That might be considered grist for the Darwin Awards, but often its other peoples safety that gets sneered away we have a higher rate of workplace injury than most OECD countries, as employers Bloke-Sneer at the health and safety regulations. And its not just a matter of harming people negligently; New Zealand schools have a chronic bullying problem. I think thats a root of the Bloke Sneer problem as well as a fruit of it, insofar as surviving in that environment forces you to develop a highly-tuned scorn reflex. Anything you are seen to genuinely care about can be used to hurt you.
I suspect the Bloke Sneer is also the main reason why New Zealand isnt as religious as the United States. I must admit, it does bear a certain superficial resemblance to scientific scepticism. However, the Bloke Sneer yawns at evidence and snickers at reason. Being primarily an emotional reflex, its not going to form a completely consistent philosophy; but if you were to write down its underlying logic, the epistemic component would read Anyone coming at you with an agenda of any kind can be dismissed without a hearing.
Its perfectly sensible to be wary of people with axes to grind, of course. We humans instinctively set the evidentiary bar lower for propositions that suit us than for propositions that dont, and a prudent sceptic will adjust for their informants biases. But the sceptic should know to take especial care to adjust for their own biases, and the Bloke Sneer does the opposite. An agenda just means something you want or hope for, and are prepared to work for. And if you see a real problem looming in the future, youre going to want to change it, arent you?
Logically, therefore, All agendas should be dismissed is functionally equivalent to There is no such thing as a problem. The Bloke Sneer is a sign not of tough-mindedness or scepticism, but of the woolliest kind of wishful thinking.