Coronavirus + Climate Change: How Trump went from “It’s a hoax” to ‘I’m a wartime president” in 3 weeks.
There’s been no lack of media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, and of course that includes plenty of discussion on the parallels between COVID-19 and climate change. But one of the most informative and interesting pieces on the connection is one that said the least.
Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson interviewed media theorist and philosopher Tom de Zengotita, who explains the globally shared experience of this pandemic is forcing us to reckon with reality as it is, as opposed to how someone has designed it for us to experience. Most of our lives now occur in designed environments, from cities adorned with billboards crafted to catch our momentary attention to online environments designed by algorithm with you as the end-user in mind.
It’s the idea that we can choose our reality that applies to Trump’s supporters, one of whom told de Zengotita that she doesn’t “actually believe anything [Trump] says is true, but I trust him.” They know that he lies, but they’re in on it. “They’re building the fabrication with him,” de Zengotita explains, “they know it’s not true… It’s like a pro wrestling match. They’re having fun… they’re participating in making the fabricated reality that we think they’re sort of mindlessly absorbing, or being duped.”
But the coronavirus pandemic, like climate change, forces us to deal with something that’s bigger than our collective ability to ignore or contain. There’s no volume control, no way to change the channel. To borrow Wilkinson’s framing, while the impacts will be felt differently, and unequally, by different people, everyone will feel something. There’s no way to “opt out” of the pandemic.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t those that try, as de Zengotita explains. The “older tough guys” who say they’re going about their regular lives aren’t just putting on a display of Boomer Invulnerability. It’s also a coping mechanism, a “gesture” to exert some semblance of control and deny “the giganticness of this invisible reality that would bring them to their knees in awe if they let themselves realize that they cannot possibly comprehend this.”
And that brings us back around to climate change. If anyone can do the mental gymnastics required to avoid a gigantic reality they can’t possibly comprehend, it’s climate deniers.
While most people would think that not knowing about a complicated field of study, like epidemiology and public health modeling, would be a reason to listen to the actual experts, for deniers it’s of course the opposite.
For example, on Tuesday Judith Curry published a blog post “in favor of epistemic trespassing,” (a fancy term for judging matters outside one’s field of expertise) in which she excerpts from a 2018 paper that made basically the opposite argument.
Now, Curry doesn’t actually put forth any particular argument in favor of epistemic trespassing, aside from the headline. She does, however, highlight a denier who has basically fallen on his face a bunch of times as proof that it’s a good idea for nonexperts to challenge people who actually know things.
Over at ClimateScepticism, that’s basically their whole jam. And in a recent post, blogger Geoff Chambers basically admits that the entire opposition to coronavirus mitigation measures are epistemic trespassers. Much like the reliance on fake experts to propagate climate denial, Chambers blithely brags about the “massive disagreement between experts” before pointing out that the two camps are the actual scientific establishment on one hand, and some random statisticians, criminologists, and economists on the other.
And deniers are certainly going to throw their lot in with the randos. But while most climate deniers won’t live to see how wrong they were about climate change, as de Zengotita pointed out, it’s illustrative to see how “Trump and his enablers went from ‘Oh this is nothing’ to ‘I’m a wartime president fighting the greatest battle since Churchill’ in the space of three weeks.”
Just as it was with Trump’s failure to respond to the coronavirus, the problem is, as it has long been, if we wait for climate change to make climate science impossible to deny, it will already be far too late.
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(Crossposted with DailyKos.)