NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, July 26th, 2023

The Ostrich Effect: Right wingers threatened by reality are putting their heads in the sand

When I was grow­ing up dur­ing the Cold War, liv­ing with the specter of nuclear con­flict, sci­ence fic­tion hor­ror movies were a form of escapism from real-life dan­gers. “Inva­sion of the Body Snatch­ers” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” were my favorite, while Godzil­la pro­vid­ed the scari­est moments on screen.

In a 1965 piece enti­tled “The Imag­i­na­tion of Dis­as­ter,” writer Susan Son­tag argued that such flicks made real dan­gers seem mun­dane, ”incul­cat­ing a strange apa­thy con­cern­ing the process­es of radi­a­tion, con­t­a­m­i­na­tion and destruction.”

A look at today’s world evokes the Armaged­don wor­ries we used to occa­sion­al­ly hear from Ronald Rea­gan. Forests and fields are burn­ing from Chi­na to British Colum­bia to Greece. Sea­wa­ter tem­per­a­tures off the Flori­da Keys have climbed above one hun­dred degrees Fahren­heit — the hottest ever mea­sured. Glac­i­ers are melt­ing and floods have struck such once-serene places as Ver­mont.

The “absolute­ly over­whelm­ing” evi­dence of glob­al warm­ing is everywhere.

Soft coral bleaching

Exten­sive bleach­ing of the soft coral Palythoa carib­ae­o­rum on Emer­ald Reef, Key Bis­cayne, Flori­da. Undat­ed image. (Pho­to: Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Administration)

“Euro­pean and North Amer­i­can tem­per­a­tures would have been vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble with­out the effects of cli­mate change. In Chi­na, it was more than 50 times more like­ly to hap­pen com­pared to the past,” Izidine Pin­to of the Roy­al Nether­lands Mete­o­ro­log­i­cal Insti­tute said Wednes­day, report­ing on results of a glob­al weath­er study.

How can this be ignored, e.g. by Rupert Mur­doch’s FNC, or denied even by likes of Don­ald Trump? The answer is the “Ostrich Effect.” Its name is tak­en from the long-necked bird renowned for alleged­ly putting its head in the sand to escape dan­ger. The dan­ger dis­ap­pears, at least in eyes of the ostrich. (Actu­al­ly, ostrich­es flop to the ground and lie still when they can­not escape.)

Ostrich tac­tics will nei­ther stop nor slow cli­mate damage.

No reas­sur­ances from Cliff Mass will bring back the melt­ed Ander­son and Lil­lian Glac­i­er in the Olympics. Nor will bring a win­ter snow­ball onto the Sen­ate floor keep D.C.’s heat index from climb­ing about 100 degrees Fahren­heit in summer.

But the Ostrich Effect is hav­ing wide appli­ca­tion across a wide spec­trum of social, polit­i­cal and envi­ron­men­tal issues. If you are white and do not like being told of the his­to­ry of slav­ery and white racism, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you are the gov­er­nor of Flori­da, you ban teach­ing it in schools and universities.

If you find peo­ple who iden­ti­fy as LBTQ+ unset­tling, you remove books from the library that dis­cuss them. You ban drag shows that make you feel threat­ened. If a pan­dem­ic threat­ens to hit, you claim the pro­tec­tion of “nat­ur­al immunity.”

If you do not like being remind­ed of gun vio­lence, as the coun­try aver­ages more than one mul­ti­ple shoot­ing each day, you out­law the track­ing of gun injuries and deaths by agen­cies that mon­i­tor pub­lic health.

Of course, too, if you lose an elec­tion, go into denial and say it was stolen. Claim, as do Trump and Kari Lake, that “every­one knows” that you won. So what if the facts are not with the Ostrich Effect, because that is the beau­ty of it. Facts don’t mat­ter. It solves every prob­lem — at least for you and your fel­low deniers.

In her essay, Son­tag described escapism of the Cold War era with the words: “We live under con­tin­u­al threat of two equal­ly fear­ful, but seem­ing­ly opposed, des­tinies: Unremit­ting banal­i­ty and incon­ceiv­able terror.”

Sci­ence fic­tion was deployed “to lift us out of the unbear­able hum­drum… into dan­ger­ous (fic­tion­al) sit­u­a­tions which have last minute hap­py endings.”

The “Ostrich Effect” is not mak­ing for hap­py end­ings in today’s world. Instead, it is fuel­ing a bat­tle for the nation’s soul – to use Joe Biden’s phrase – between those who face real­i­ty and oth­ers who con­jure up “alter­na­tive facts.”

The lat­ter see a world of demons that includes cli­mate sci­en­tists, any­one they con­sid­er their polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion, and much of the med­ical profession.

Cli­mate dam­age will not bring about the end of the Earth or the ter­mi­na­tion of life on earth. Our world will still be here. The globe will keep spin­ning. But human­i­ty’s addic­tion to fos­sil fuels may make much of it unrec­og­niz­able and unin­hab­it­able, espe­cial­ly for the gen­er­a­tions to come that we’re bor­row­ing this plan­et from.

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