Why is there so much climate skepticism among the farmers worst hit by climate-caused drought, as this article shows? Let me put on my cultural anthropology/sociology hat:
1) At this time in history, rural people everywhere represent the traditional side of their national culture, for they are the ones (10%) who stayed behind when their relatives and neighbors (90%) headed to the cities for better opportunities. The ones who stayed behind are much more culturally conservative than the migrants–less willing to have new life experiences, and more attached to place, to a rural way of life, and to an identity as a farmer. Many of them have a craftsman’s appreciation of modern machinery, but their beliefs are another matter.
2) Cultural conservatives have the strongest version of what social researchers at Yale, led by Dan Kagan, call ‘motivated cognition.’ They use both their thinking and emotional responses to defend against any threats to their worldview, rather than change, or rethink their assumptions. This often comes with denial, and distortions of thought, holding fast to beliefs that others find implausible, or even ridiculous.
3) The version of the farmer’s worldview the US ones are defending is a Biblical one: All weather events and resulting crop yields are “acts of God”, a term that has even made it into our laws. Religious thinking in the Abrahamic traditions (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) was formed over the last 3-4 thousand years in an agricultural region that was going through progressive drying out from a rich, grain-producing area to a desert all across the Middle East and North Africa. Ancient civilizations started there because of that grain production. The belief structure around ‘acts of God’ is formed out of a desire to account for unpredictable weather events, and progressively worse harvests. “If we’re good, righteous people, how come bad stuff is happening to us? Must be God’s inscrutable ways…” Spreading into Europe, that same civilization still encountered unpredictable weather and tougher winters, so the farmers maintained that defensive belief pattern: that there’s nothing you can do about it, except pray for rain, and other propitiatory rituals. Many anthropologists argue that the main function of conventional religion is helping deal with anxieties about uncertain and life-threatening events, such as threats to one’s food supply.
4) So, there’s no way that the vast majority of culturally conservative farmers in the American farm regions are suddenly going to lurch to a scientific, human-caused-climate-disaster explanation, when the Good Book (whatever it happens to be), and their church that helps define their life, tells them it’s acts of God. Their beliefs are a whole package, and one with a substantial lineage. It doesn’t matter if their livelihood blows away in the dust–they still get to be right in their own minds, and righteous…
Thanks to James Quilligan for forwarding this.
Financial Times (London)
August 15, 2012 5:42 pm
Drought and climate scepticism in corn belt
By Gregory Meyer in Sikeston, Missouri
Extreme weather has visited Kevin Mainord’s farm business twice in the past two years. In 2011 a wall of water deluged his corn and soyabean fields after US authorities blasted a levee to relieve flooding on the Mississippi river. This year brought drought and weeks of devastating heat.
Scientists have long warned of more frequent floods and droughts as the world’s climate changes. But for Mr Mainord and many like him, global warming is bogus. “It’s more God and nature’s dictates, rather than a man-made event,” the Missouri farmer said this week as he harvested a corn crop one-quarter of its normal size.
Climate scepticism among farmers helps explain why carbon emissions are off the US legislative agenda despite the hottest temperatures on record .
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