Climate change is a typical example of a ‘captured moral domain’ model. What this means is politicians, leaders, CEOs, basically anyone with a real job, would be afraid to voice their frank opinion on the matter. If you are skeptical you are likely to stick out like a sore thumb, even if others have the same opinion as you because they’re keeping mum. Climate skepticism is shy.
A ‘captured moral domain’ gives several immediate advantages to issue ground troopers. For one, it gives them a license to smear opponents without compunction, and they use it. ‘Climate change denier.’ If you are a leader who’s worked hard to attain a powerful position, it is different being publicly labeled a ‘denier’ than when you were fighting your way to the top.
Climate change is a bubble configuration issue. When you live in the real world, it is easier to laugh at global warming. Inside government, surrounded by bureaucrats for whom global warming is a religion, it is harder to so. Politeness intervenes. If you are forced to attend parties where Leonardo DiCaprio shows up regularly, it is easier to nod along as he bores you about global warming and his latest DVD. Once inside, the climate bubble becomes the entire landscape for many leaders – they are surrounded by officials, celebrities, scientists, activists, party members and assorted hangers-on who inevitably believe in the climate consensus. You may be ‘the leader of the free world’ but your leadership projects outward, starting with the circle closest around you.
Because it is a bubble issue, climate like many progressive ’causes’ is a smartness trap. With a little effort on consensus material, you can appear really smart. With a lot of effort, you can become a skeptic and look stupid. As a result, for leaders the value of climate as social currency exists on the consensus side. Thankfully, this is the opposite of the real world social gatherings where if you utter the word climate people will run away from you.
Climate has long survived by making itself relevant to geopolitics. In the 1950s Cold War era, scientists successfully persuaded the US government to fund research by raising the specter of weather manipulation by the USSR. Today, Anthony Watts bans chemtrail conspiracy theory adherents from his blog. From the 1980s onward, climate became a staple of geopolitical chicanery following the successful template of acid rain and ozone control. Politicians have been successively tempted to play climate politics to harm their opponents, and allies. You have to pretend to believe to buy a ticket to play.
Climate activists focus all their efforts in targeting prestige media outlets and powerful politicians. They tell them climate change is an opportunity for international ‘leadership’ and statesmanship. As an example, take a look at this Tom Freidman article trying frantically to push all the right buttons for Donald Trump. Activists say climate research is an arena of global contest. War, peace, ‘clean energy,’ environmental ‘protection’ – there is virtually no end to areas in which global leaders could transform into beloved statesman by simply believing in the climate cause. ‘Go on, push the switch, keep the train going.’
Climate activism and research are mature fields filled with professionals with decades of work and with careers and families on the line. Want to be the one to tell them they’re out of work? It is far easier for leaders to let it go even if activists work toward reconfiguring or destroying whole-scale, segments of the economy because climate activism works slowly. The problem of climate activism is wickeder than ‘global warming.’
Climate is forever a problem of the future. Leaders and politicians, on the other hand, have more pressing matters to attend to. A politician may calculate it to be not in his or her best interest to tackle a slow-moving target like climate. It may appear more convenient to lob the hot potato to the next incoming guy if you are constantly surrounded by professional whiners.