God Smits Global Warming Deniers in Red States

May 1, 2011

Last week the worst storms in 36 years rolled across the Bible belt, but even in this superstitious area of the country, the media made virtually no mention of an obvious possible cause: global warming.  The media’s silence is odd, like a watch dog that, during a break-in, fails to bark.  One must ask why.

According to the New York Times report, at least 333 people were killed in the storms and tornados that last week rolled across Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. 

Southerners are usually quick to believe in divine retribution, far-fetched explanations, rumors, and hidden trends.   The media us usually quick to feed gullibility and fill endless column inches and media minutes examining possible causes, no matter how farfetched.  You would think the news would be filled with stories about global warming and trailer park residents would be saying things like “Weell Jed, you think this here is cause by that global warmen stuff.”  But no such thing is happening.

When media reports do mention global warming, they contain careful disclaimers.  Editors or self censoring authors are quick to point out that we cannot attribute any particular storm to global warming.  Global warming, they say affects climate, not weather. 

This is like saying that wars do not cause battles.  This might be plausible, especially in some border area that is prone to frequent skirmishes.  A war skeptic could say that a war does not explain a particular battle.  It is true that any particular battle might have broken out elsewhere.  However it is equally true that without a war, a huge, record breaking battle would be much less likely. 

In a similar way, global warming makes many forms of extreme weather more probable.  Global warming heats the world’s oceans and since hurricanes get their energy from warm water, hurricanes become more frequent and they are more likely to be severe.  Global warming also heats the air. Warm air can hold more water and that means less water on the ground, i.e. more droughts and wild fires.  Moister air also means that when there are storms, they contain more water and that means more floods.  Simply put, global warming pumps more energy into the atmosphere and makes all forms of weather more extreme.

My personal favorite possible cause of tournedos in particular would be higher differentials between warm air at the surface and cooler air in the upper atmosphere.  One could spend endless time investigating this and other possibilities.  There are experts to interview, weather patterns to report on, past storms to which this one could be compared.  The media could fill days of air time without even venturing into the hard-work territory of investigative reporting. 

However, a media that spent a full day reporting on the balloon-boy hoax has passed up an easy, good story.   Why?   At one level the explanation is obvious.  Curbing global warming requires government regulations, which is anathema to big business, and of course big media are big businesses.  But I think that is not the whole reason. 

The global warming story is dangerous.  Right wing politicians have made denying global warming a cornerstone of their doctrine.  In their view, global warming is a hoax.  It is merely a pretext for government regulation, which is just part of the left wing’s march toward socialism.  This sort of conspiracy theory propaganda is most likely to be believed in the superstitious South. 

Unfortunately, in the U.S., the superstitious South is exactly the place most likely to be harmed by global warming.   Furthermore, global warming is the sort of idea that could easily play to people’s superstitions.  If the idea of global warming once caught on as a popular explanation for extreme weather, it would drive a wedge down the middle of the right wing’s base.

It is tempting to enjoy the irony.  The Bible-belt is the home of the vengeful God of the Old Testament.  In red states God punishes evil doing.  Preachers blame natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina on sin and God’s vengeance.  Devout believers demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to make the point that God killed the young men to punish widespread sodomy, in blue states.   

It seems obvious by analogy that these massive tornado spawning storms must have been a sign of God’s wrath.  For what transgression are these states being punished?  Perhaps their sin is sending to the Congress representatives who deny the reality of global warming. 

These thoughts are tempting but that would be to blame the victim.  The poor, ignorant, people of the South are the target of right wing propaganda because they are gullible.

Even Niccolò Machiavelli was astonished at the prevalence of gullibility and at the persistent efficacy of deception.  He observed that anyone who aspired to political power must be both a lion and a fox, that is to use not only brute force but also cunning.  But of the two, cunning is the most important.   As he said,

“He who has known best how to employ the fox has succeeded best. But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.”

CHAPTER XVIII — CONCERNING THE WAY IN WHICH PRINCES SHOULD KEEP FAITH

The people of the Bible-belt are simply among the legion of the gullible that allow the powerful to deceive them.

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