From the School of Really Dumb Climate Change Solutions, a novel proposal from Lisa Feldman Barrett – a professor of psychology at Northeastern University:
The next time a city like Las Vegas has a record heat wave, as it did in June of this year (117 degrees F), we could petition President Trump to travel there. Perhaps a three-day stay at Trump International Hotel — with the air conditioning turned off — would be swelteringly educational. Or shall we ask Vice President Pence to visit Nuatambu, one of the Solomon Islands northeast of Australia, where rising ocean levels have washed away half the habitable land and forced families to flee? Let him live there for a month or two. Or maybe Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, should survive on minimal drinking water for a few days, so he can understand viscerally what a drought feels like.
Apparently, the scientific rationale behind this is that the human imagination is not nearly as good at empathising with future pain as it is with future pleasure.
Most of us can easily imagine the sight of polar ice caps melting, and we might feel distressed as we think about coastal cities flooding. But thanks to our brain wiring, few of us can simulate the feeling of blasting heat or the awfulness of other disasters we’d face every day in a warming world. The physical sensations of being submerged in floodwaters. The agony of starvation as crops fail and drinking water runs low. The wretchedness of disease as we’re bitten by newly arrived insects that migrate north as the country warms. We can effortlessly simulate the scenes but not the actual, physical sensations of our suffering.
This might indeed be an amazingly powerful and insightful argument were it not for one quite serious flaw: none of the stuff Barrett describes here has anything to do with climate change.
For example, the line about global warming leading to more insect borne disease. This was comprehensively debunked years ago by Paul Reiter, an expert in tropical diseases, who once resigned from an IPCC working group in protest at the way it had misrepresented his research in order to promote an alarmist narrative.
As far back as 1998, Reiter gave a lecture on this subject to the Cooler Heads Coalition:
All attempts to link specific recent outbreaks to climate change cannot survive a confrontation with the facts. In all cases, local conditions (such as the banning of DDT, land use changes, or foreign contact) account for expansions of disease vectors or increases in infection rates.
So what Barrett is arguing here isn’t just ignorant but somewhat sinister. Politicians guilty of wrongthink, she is arguing, should be jolted into correct consciousness by compulsory re-education.
Such an approach was, of course, commonplace both in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany. The fact that it is now also widespread amid the safe spaces of U.S. academe – and unquestioningly accepted by branches of the liberal media like NPR – ought to be a cause for some concern.