What I mean there is the reason there is such widespread denial of the reality of climate change with power brokers in the Republican Party, and certainly within very right-wing, free-market think tanks, is they understand this:
If the science is true, then the political or economic projects they hope to advance, which is a radically deregulated market, must come to a screeching halt.
Because climate change science is true, it does mean we need to intervene very seriously in the market. It does mean we need to regulate corporations in a way governments have been unwilling to do for the last 40 years. We have to place severe limits on further expansion of the fossil fuel frontier if we’re serious about this.
It means we can’t develop new fossil fuel reserves and we have to manage a transition away from fossil fuels with existing production. This requires managing the economy, it requires planning, it requires major investments in energy, public investments, major investments in public transit. These things go against all of the economic trends of the past 40 years where we’ve been defunding the public sphere on so many fronts.
I think the Republican party understands this, and therefore chooses to deny reality. Whereas one of the things we see in the Democratic party is, instead of denying the science, they deny the implications of the scientific evidence.
I put the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in this category, where he’s written so many columns about how “easy” it is to deal with climate change. We can do it and we’ll barely notice. I think people should understand it is a profoundly more fundamental challenge than Krugman’s “just tweaking.”
For decades, there was a huge emphasis on these just small consumer changes that you can make. It created a kind of cognitive dissonance where you present people with information about an existential threat and then say, “Well, change your light bulb,” or, “Drive a hybrid.” You don’t talk at all about public policy. And if you do, it’s a very tiny carbon tax and that’s going to do it.
Then I think there are some Democrats who do understand the implications of climate change and the depth of change it requires from us. But because these Democrats believe humans are incapable of this kind of change, or at this stage in human evolution, I suppose, they think we’re basically doomed.
I think contemporary centrist liberalism does not have the tools to deal with a crisis of this magnitude, which requires this level of market intervention. And I worry this leads to nihilism around climate change.