Observers of contemporary society will surely have noted that a liberal is far more likely to fear global warming than a conservative. Why is this?
After all, if the science is as conclusive as Al Gore, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and virtually every other spokesman of the Left says it is, conservatives are just as likely to be scorched and drowned and otherwise done in by global warming as liberals will. So why aren't non-leftists nearly as exercised as leftists are? Do conservatives handle heat better? Are libertarians better swimmers? Do religious people love their children less?
The usual liberal responses -- to label a conservative position racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic or the like -- obviously don't apply here. So, liberals would have to fall back on the one remaining all-purpose liberal explanation: "big business." They might therefore explain the conservative-liberal divide over global warming thus: Conservatives don't care about global warming because they prefer corporate profits to saving the planet.
But such an explanation could not explain the vast majority of conservatives who are not in any way tied into the corporate world (like this writer, who has no stocks and who, moreover, regards big business as amoral as leftists do).
No, the usual liberal dismissals of conservatives and their positions just don't explain this particularly illuminating difference between liberals and conservatives.
Here are six more likely explanations:
-- The Left is prone to hysteria. The belief that global warming will destroy the world is but one of many hysterical notions held on the Left. As noted in a previous column devoted to the Left and hysteria, many on the Left have been hysterical about the dangers of the PATRIOT Act and the NSA surveillance of phone numbers (incipient fascism); secondhand smoke (killing vast numbers of people); drilling in the remotest area of Alaska (major environmental despoliation); and opposition to same-sex marriage (imminent Christian theocracy).
-- The Left believes that if The New York Times and other liberal news sources report something, it is true. If the cover of Time magazine says, "Global Warming: Be Worried, Very Worried," liberals get worried, very worried, about global warming.
It is noteworthy that liberals, one of whose mottos is "question authority," so rarely question the authority of the mainstream media. Now, of course, conservatives, too, often believe mainstream media. But conservatives have other sources of news that enable them to achieve the liberal ideal of questioning authority. Whereas few liberals ever read non-liberal sources of information or listen to conservative talk radio, the great majority of conservatives are regularly exposed to liberal news, liberal editorials and liberal films, and they have also received many years of liberal education.
-- The Left believes in experts. Of course, every rational person, liberal or conservative, trusts the expertise of experts -- such as when experts in biology explain the workings of mitochondria, or when experts in astronomy describe the moons of Jupiter. But for liberals, "expert" has come to mean far more than greater knowledge in a given area. It now means two additional things: One is that non-experts should defer to experts not only on matters of knowledge, but on matters of policy, as well. The second is that experts possess greater wisdom about life, not merely greater knowledge in their area of expertise.
That is why liberals are far more likely to be impressed when a Nobel Prize winner in, let us say, physics signs an ad against war or against capital punishment. The liberal is bowled over by the title "Nobel laureate." The conservative is more likely to wonder why a Nobel laureate in physics has anything more meaningful to say about war than, let us say, a taxi driver.
-- People who don't confront the greatest evils will confront far lesser ones. Most humans know the world is morally disordered -- and socially conscious humans therefore try to fight what they deem to be most responsible for that disorder. The Right tends to fight human evil such as communism and Islamic totalitarianism. The Left avoids confronting such evils and concentrates its attention instead on socioeconomic inequality, environmental problems and capitalism. Global warming meets all three of these criteria of evil. By burning fossil fuels, rich countries pollute more, the environment is being despoiled and big business increases its profits.
-- The Left is far more likely to revere, even worship, nature. A threat to the environment is regarded by many on the Left as a threat to what is most sacred to them, and therefore deemed to be the greatest threat humanity faces. The cover of Vanity Fair's recent "Special Green Issue" declared: "A Graver Threat Than Terrorism:
Global Warming." Conservatives, more concerned with human evil, hold the very opposite view: Islamic terror is a far graver threat than global warming.
-- Leftists tend to fear dying more. That is one reason they are more exercised about our waging war against evil than about the evils committed by those we fight. The number of Iraqis and others Saddam Hussein murdered troubles the Left considerably less than even the remote possibility than they may one day die of global warming (or secondhand smoke).
One day, our grandchildren may ask us what we did when Islamic fascism threatened the free world. Some of us will say we were preoccupied with fighting that threat wherever possible; others will be able to say they fought carbon dioxide emissions. One of us will look bad.