A year or so ago I wrote an post asking “Are we needlessly scaring ourselves to death”? My feeling was that we do indeed needlessly scare ourselves to death by not putting threats into perspective. Used in the post were statistics about terrorist attacks via airlines and the likelihood of actually being a victim of terrorism in such a situation. As you might imagine, given the number of passengers, flights and miles traveled, the risk per se is statistically miniscule. But that doesn’t keep the population at large from being “scared” of the threat or condoning limits on liberty to hopefully prevent even that tiny percent of successful attacks.
That brings me to a larger point. The evolution of “scaremongering”. Frank Furedi hits on the issue I’ve observed over the years since technology and the internet have given communication a rocket boost that we apparently haven’t quite adapted too. Scaremongering has become a competitive growth industry:
[T]he massive growth of fearmongering campaigns and crusades over the past quarter of a century has been unprecedented. Fear-fuelled grandstanding becomes most extravagant in relation to the very big catastrophic hazards that apparently threaten the survival of the planet itself. The list of potential planetary disasters is growing all the time. International terrorism, climate change, influenza-type pandemic, the AIDS epidemic, overpopulation, obesity, disastrous technological accidents – these are only some of the many mega-hazards that are said to confront humanity today.
Scaremongering also has a powerful impact in the arena of individual health. Health scares targeting women and children in particular have become a flourishing enterprise in recent years. Health scares are often linked to anxieties about food or the alleged side effects of drugs, pollution and new technologies. Personal security is another important area for fearmongering. Anxieties about crime, immigration and anti-social behaviour are regularly promoted by law-and-order groups. The environment, of course, is now treated as a potentially huge problem in it own right. Anything that has an impact on nature is said to store up big disasters for the future.
With so much to fear, it’s not surprising that there is now an intense level of competition to grab the attention of the public. Scaremongering has become a highly competitive enterprise; contemporary public debate often takes the form of countering one hysterical plea with another.
He’s right. And the result is a confused public and a debate that spirals out of control with little of substance being offered in the way of constructive dialog and argument. It is instead replaced by competing attempts to scare the public to one side or the other. We see it everyday in the so-called political debate. In many cases as debate about any issue is reduced to scaremongering. And while many of us may understand that, there are even more that don’t.
Complex issues are reduced to tag lines and sound bites. “Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan will kill old people”. Bumper-sticker scaremongering which opponents to such a plan consider successful if it goes viral and becomes the conventional wisdom. And those who throw things out like that know, for the most part, that the average American isn’t going to take the time or make the effort to research the plan and attempt to understand it. He who gets the first meme to go viral out there wins, even if it is blatant nonsense.
And the Democrats or left aren’t the only side which does that (although I’m of the opinion that it is something the left does more than the right based on my observations). Looking at many of the social con arguments on the right examples can be found that point to the fact that they’re not at all averse to a little scaremongering to advance their agendas.
The result, however, is ironic. In an era in which unprecedented information on just about any subject or issue are available to just about everyone, we find narratives and memes created by scaremongering to still be accepted at face value by majorities of people. And that sort of success – scaremongering – breeds imitation. If it works for side A, side B certainly isn’t going to eschew it.
Consequently, as Furedi points out, scaremongering has become highly a competitive enterprise of claim and counter-claim.
The problem, of course, is the fact that there are things we should be very concerned about, but we have difficulty breaking them out of the clutter of issues being fearmongered. We also have a tendency to dismiss legitimate claims out of hand, if they sound like fearmongering, because so many of the hyped up issues turn out to be so much nonsense.
Information and perspective are two very important tools in the war against scaremongering. In my estimation, the battle against the scaremongering alarmists of AGW is a case study in how such scaremongering should be countered.
But there are so many things these days, as Furedi points out, that are being given that treatment that it is not only exasperating but somewhat depressing. We can’t make rational decision based in irrational and over-hyped issues, but we do it all the time. Look at what Germany just did with its nuclear power based on the experience of a island nation hit by a tsunami. That’s likely to happen there, right? Pure fear expertly exploited.
Fearmongering is something which has to be guarded against and fought. One of the best ways to do so is obviously through offering facts and perspective instead of a counter claim based in fear. Unfortunately, for the most part, it seems the sides prefer fear to facts, and that does us all a huge disservice and can be potentially – and I say this advisedly so as not to be branded a “fearmonger” – catastrophic if the wrong policies are implemented as a result.
In advance of the December climate summit in South Africa this year, the scare-factory is ramping up its efforts to sell the need for “drastic action” to prevent “climate change”, the current euphemism for AGW. The stories are beginning to flow.
Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.
"I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions," Birol told the Guardian. "It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say."
Of course the not-so-hidden premise here is that any increase in temperature is driven by our carbon dioxide emissions, even when the science doesn’t support the theory and models which make such a claim (about CO2 amplification) have been shown to be wildly inaccurate. That doesn’t stop the scare-factory from ignoring the discredited nonsense to make their claims:
Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. "These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] projections, such a path … would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100," he said.
Except the IPCC’s report, as anyone who has read this blog knows, has been mostly discredited, thereby yielding this result:
Added to that, the United Nations-led negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change have stalled. "The significance of climate change in international policy debates is much less pronounced than it was a few years ago," said Birol.
Consequently, the scare-factory must crank up its stridency to new levels. So expect to see more of this as December approaches. The formula is pretty predictable:
By 2030, the average cost of key crops could increase by between 120% and 180%, the charity forecasts.
It is the acceleration of a trend which has already seen food prices double in the last 20 years.
Half of the rise to come will be caused by climate change, Oxfam predicts.
Can you guess what the other cause is?
In its report, Oxfam says a "broken" food system causes "hunger, along with obesity, obscene waste, and appalling environmental degradation".
It says "power above all determines who eats and who does not", and says the present system was "constructed by and on behalf of a tiny minority – its primary purpose to deliver profit for them".
It highlights subsidies for big agricultural producers, powerful investors "playing commodities markets like casinos", and large unaccountable agribusiness companies as destructive forces in the global food system.
Oxfam wants nations to agree new rules to govern food markets, to ensure the poor do not go hungry.
Or “capitalism”. Oxfam’s “solution” is no different than the AGW alarmist’s solutions:
It calls on world leaders to improve regulation of food markets and invest in a global climate fund.
Of course it does. And those “improved regulations” and the “global climate fund” will shift power where? To centralized authorities. And we all know how well central planning works don’t we? After all, under the USSR and Maoist China, central planning adequately fed their citizens for years, didn’t it?
That’s about the nicest thing I can say about Courtland Milloy’s screed in the Washington Post. Entitled "Tolerance of white militias exemplifies the racial double standard", Milloy tries his best – which is none to impressive – to whip up a little racial hatred and divisiveness.
His two tools to lend credibility to his poorly constructed argument are the Southern Poverty Law Center, which sees a right wing conspiracy and racial hatred behind every corner, and a special Chris Matthews did – Chris Matthews – on Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia.
Matthews special was entitled "The rise of the new right", but there’s nothing especially new about the SMVM. It has been around since at least 2002 and their website openly announces ("On line since 02/02/02").
Apparently the SMVM also saw some potential problems in perhaps, oh I don’t know, 9/11? And it existed through most of the Bush presidency which, one would guess, would mean race has nothing to do with their existence or they’re wildly colorblind and just didn’t know that George Bush was a cracker.
Maybe Obama is just being savvy by not coming down hard on the militia. As Potok said, "There’s a huge amount of anger, and what we are really lacking at this moment is a kind of spark." In an apparent attempt to defuse the tension, Obama does such things as supporting a U.S. Supreme Court decision crippling D.C.’s gun control law and then signs a bill that allows visitors to national parks to carry guns.
Potok, of course, is with the SPLC and while he certainly is correct in pointing out there is a “huge amount of anger”, the implication that it is racially based and found solely on the right is simply unsupportable. MIlloy is also obviously one of those who believes that only government should have guns.
And speaking of double standards, Milloy somehow forgot to mention the Obama DoJ’s decision not to prosecute a well-known black militia, the New Black Panthers, for obvious (it’s on film) voter intimidation in Philadelphia during the last presidential election.
He finishes with this:
Still, gun advocates keep him in their sights. They show up outside presidential town hall meetings brandishing firearms. When a young black man, identified only as Chris, showed up at one such event with a rifle strapped to his back, white protesters cited him as proof that race had nothing to do with their contempt for Obama.
But they missed the point.
Had the black rifleman showed for, say, Ronald Reagan’s "states’ rights" speech in Philadelphia, Miss., back in 1980, they might still be dredging the Pearl River for his remains.
Really? From Philadelphia, MS to Philadelphia, PA – we’ve come a long way haven’t we Mr. Milloy. If this is the best you can muster to keep the fires of racial hatred stoked, it’s going to be a long, cold winter for you, isn’t it?