So, do I have your attention?
What liberals and climate change “believers” have wrong* is (1) how they treat climate change skeptics and (2) to whom they are speaking.
I was confronted last weekend with a shocking and revealing experience. In an unrelated conversation with a person I have always regarded as an intelligent critical thinker, I brought up solar panels. This person had a visceral reaction to the idea of solar panels and the conversation shut down.
I was taken aback. Solar panels are as innocuous as water softener systems. 25,000 home owners (of all political leanings) in Arizona have installed them. Republican Governor Jan Brewer has them on her house and she loves them. Even as incentives are going away, people are still installing them
Look, I work with a lot of people every day and I only see reactions like the one I saw when something has touched a nerve –when the topic at hand represents more than just the neutral object, itself. To me, the reaction last weekend spoke of a larger issue. You can disagree whether solar panels save money, or are worth the effort financially, but this person seemed to consider solar panels an affront to decency.
I don’t know what solar energy represented to this person. But I am certain, based on what I know, that this person has probably been getting some very inaccurate information about the costs, utility and promise of solar panels.
This got me thinking –and frankly, a little depressed. So much of this debate happens because there are very strong interests that resist changing the way we harvest and collect energy, how we conserve, personally and as a society –and what we know to be true about climate change.
There are two types of resistance: the political/financial and the personal.
In this situation, which requires significant behavioral change, corporations and political structures resist –and they use a ton of money through the media to convince a lot of people that “the jury is still out.”
Hey, it is tough to ask a person who has always used a certain amount of energy or water to think about conservation –it is complicated and uncomfortable sometimes. You are asking them to alter their American dream.
Heck, change like this may even make you feel as if you are being indicted for all those years you heard about climate change, but were not ready to accept its reality. Who wants to feel like they are part of the problem? This makes resistance to change an easy sell because people naturally don’t want to interrupt their lives if they don’t have to.
Psychologists know that humans’ first reaction when confronted with such discomfort is to rationalize why they are not wrong. The political/financial elements in society resist necessary change by playing on that psychological human tendency.
And here is why it money and media-driven resistence so affective: good people who just thought they were doing the right thing are now being told that they were not for all those years.
I love the lyrics from the band The Postal Service, which really encapsulates this beautifully.
And then last night I had that strange dream
Where everything was exactly how it seemed
Where concerns about the world getting warmer
The people thought they were just being rewarded
For treating others as they like to be treated
For obeying stop signs and curing diseases
For mailing letters with the address of the sender
Now we can swim any day in November
So, I looked at our situation and felt like we are in a true pickle: it is human nature to want to expand; it is human nature to resist change when it challenges how we view ourselves; it is the nature of corporations to resist new costs and therefore miss how the new reality could actually be profitable; it is in the nature of democratic governments to listen to their citizens and corporations when they say they only want change that is painless.
I was specifically disheartened because so many very smart people, like the one who triggered this conversation, have been taken for a ride by very savvy interests. These adept opinion manipulators know that all of what I’ve said about human nature is true and have cynically made the not-so-subtle case that climate change is driven by crazy environmentalists. They have made this debate a symbolic extension of a 50-year old cultural war in America.
An aside: I heard the compelling argument many times that lefty scientists just fabricate global warming so they can get grant money. However, reason dictates that top oil company executives, who resist the move away from fossil fuels and who make about $100,000 PER DAY have the greater incentive to maintain the status quo.
Anyway, this gulf between those who do and don’t accept climate change is so huge that I felt deeply discouraged thinking about how we could ever resolve it. Even if we accept the truth of climate change, the personal and political behavioral change required of people (liberal, conservative, whatever) will make this the most difficult challenge ever faced by humans.
Wouldn’t it be sad, I thought, if we only accomplish the change needed when the mean temperature and carbon levels have reached an undeniable level? By that time, the consequences to agriculture, low land populations and places like Arizona could take another 100 years to reverse.
But, I try not to stay discouraged for too long and how I felt less discouraged is what this blog has been leading up to.
I heard last week’s This American Life in which they covered three stories of how people are beginning to speak differently about climate change. Most notably, Former Republican South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis has been touring the country trying to change the way the Republicans think about climate change.
He makes a great point. To paraphrase, “what conservative would want to change their minds in front of a bunch of liberals who might take this as an opportunity to expand government or who often present this entire debate in a condescending tone of ‘I told you so’?”
As he describes it, Republicans need to recognize the science, reject the hype about one hot summer or one bad hurricane season (as I do), and focus on what they do best: find a way to make a profit or reduce the size of government while solving the climate change problem. I’m cool with that. We need everybody pulling together.
So, this gave me hope. This made me feel like we have a chance. It made me realize that those of us who accept the science need to slow down, get better at answering the critiques and open the conversation with those who disagree. We’ve gotten too good at just preaching to the choir.
If you’ve made it to the end of this long blog post, first, congratulations. Second, please take the time to listen to that last edition of This American Life –at least Acts One and Two. Do this where you can listen uninterrupted. I believe that this way of thinking represents a way forward and out of this morass.
I am certain that climate change is happening and it is man made –the proof is not in any recent tornado or hurricane, I don’t see it in any unusually hot summer.Its simple math: we have just exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere and 98 percent of climate scientist agree that after 350 ppm we will see a 2 degree centigrade temperature worldwide in the coming decades.
The only unknown is, what will be the consequences of inaction?
Then comment here or on Facebook. If you like it, share it all. If not, let’s start talking.
*I dislike the term “believer” because this is not like the easter bunny. However, “climate change support” does not work, either. I don’t support climate change, like a political candidate.