The Politics of Climate Change -How to Handle Climate Change Deniers


by James Sauer September 30, 2016

 

Most people reading this have probably found themselves in a similar sticky situation: talking to a buddy or loved one about climate change, and finding out they have a completely conflicting belief about the issue. You love Grandma! You really like Joe from Accounting! But you really don't agree with them. As supporters of green living and promoting solutions to climate change, how can we discuss this issue we care about without increasing the divides in beliefs and politics already so present? How can we make a difference in a time of such stark differences of opinion in our society?

In this post I want to do two things:

1. Discuss the reasons why people have such polarizing beliefs about whether climate change is really happening

2. Propose some ideas on how to handle what has become a common argument

 

People are programmed to solve only imminent threats to their survival. 

If it was a given fact that a meteor was going to strike the earth in a couple weeks you can be sure that urgent measures would be taken to do anything possible to avoid the event. However, climate change is an ongoing dilemma that doesn't feel so sudden. 

meteor picture

At this time only a small percentage of people on the planet are affected by climate change in a direct way. What makes it seem less threatening is that it is a gradual shift which makes any changes in weather patterns difficult to perceive. Some parts of the population in colder climates even welcome the milder temperatures. On the other hand, you know that if water was three feet deep in downtown Miami there would be a much different perception and reaction to the warming. Hopefully we will not end up with that scenario, but situations such as flooding in major cities are projected effects of climate change, whereas milder temperatures in typically cooler places are just the beginning of these changes. 

A large part of the population has little scientific exposure or knowledge.

For many of us, the only knowledge we have on climate change is drawn from the news media. We hear everything from "scientists say that global warming is a threat to our  existence" to "all this warming stuff is nonsense, don't worry about it."  With such an abundance of varying messages in today's world, it's understandable that one would have a difficult time deciding what to believe.

But, as with many things, education is key. If you were to take a poll of a younger set of people you would find few who would deny that climate change is a real threat. They are studying or have recently taken science courses with the most updated knowledge funneled down from top scientific minds and their data. Earth Science courses prior to the 1990s did not touch on the topic more than maybe a brief mention.  

People like to believe what they are told by those who say they don't have to change anything.

People are creatures of habit. We go through our daily lives and there is a certain comfort to knowing that tomorrow will be similar to today.  We get so accustomed to the "sameness" that we tend to resist anything that challenges it.  For example, most of us are accustomed to using fossil fuels because we've been doing so all our lives.  The thought might sound something like this: "I'm getting along just fine with my car, furnace, cable TV, etc. so why change it?  That would be a transition that I really don't want to deal with." Again, this is an understandable response, but probably not the most thought-through one if it ends there. 

Money--there is a lot at stake for oil and gas related businesses

How often have you seen an advertisement for "clean coal" or natural gas? These companies are trying to hold on to their steady profit streams and certainly don't want any drastic changes taking place. They've altered the terminology to make their fuel sound better for the environment. And there are plenty of other companies that aren't changing a thing because they know we rely on them in order to not change our lifestyles (see above!). This includes many in the oil industry, who also promote their business through politicians and news outlets--they have enough money already to pay for these support systems.

Money

The positive thing is that plenty of companies now recognize themselves as "energy companies" and not as a particular fuel company. They have recently realized that they will need to work on developing renewable technology to stay in business for the long run. Plenty have realized there is a finite amount of oil and gas wells that can be drilled and they will not produce forever, so it's really a matter of having to change over sooner or later. Recent estimates show about a fifty year supply of oil if we continue our expanding consumption.  But of course, some folks will not believe that estimation is true. 

People can't see the whole world's weather out their living room window

Earth

http://www.mrwallpaper.com/earth-wallpaper/

Different regions have different weather and they all vary by season.  Warm and cold trends within seasons come and go with no known pattern.  If you are getting out of bed and going out to your car in sub freezing weather, it's pretty tough to be thinking "wow we really need to do something to make it colder."  The thermometer you have outside the window or on your phone gives you the local temperature and not the average global temperature--what use would that be to you?  It's not really going to matter to us if the polar regions are warming, we just want to know if we should wear a t-shirt or a sweater.  But, in the long run, it will matter, even if that's difficult to come to terms with now.

So what do you do when a friend sits down next to you and exclaims "what a bunch of B.S. all this climate change stuff is!" or "Global warming is only a ploy by scientists so they can be paid for more research"???

There are surprising numbers of people who still will not succumb to the fact that our climate is changing at an alarming rate due to human activity. We even have a presidential candidate here in the U.S. who wants to lead the country in dismissing the idea. Although you might want to put up your dukes and fight it out with your friends or family members, or someone next to you at the bar who just doesn't get it, it's actually more productive to keep the peace.
 
Belief or disbelief in climate change is similar to the unyielding differences between Democrats and Republicans. One of my previous blog posts highlights how this polarization between opposing sides interestingly (and incorrectly) fits in with today's political issues. If you are a Democrat, you wouldn't expect to have a conversation with a Republican and be able to convince them that your party is better in today's political atmosphere. The opposite of course is also true.  We all have ideals that have been established over many years regarding how we think about certain issues. These ideals are not easily changed and are more of a part of "who we are" than just what we believe in. And as we've established, us humans are hesitant to change, especially within ourselves!
 
So you're likely not going to be able to force people to change their mind about the issue. But this problem can be handled in a different way. Too often people have to be "right" about something and it becomes a competition or a debate that you can either win or lose. But it doesn't have to be that way, and that kind of debating often only makes us even more divided.

 

Hey, let's face it--we as environmentalists could be wrong. Ouch! That kind of hurts to say... but it is possible. It's extremely unlikely, according to scientific data, but it's possible. There could be some extraneous factors, something that has been overlooked or not able to be measured concerning the causes of the warming planet. There could be some future cosmic event that we can't anticipate that will cool our planet back down and we will have made all this ado abut nothing. Nothing is ever 100% certain.

Anyway that being said, since it is clear that we can't change people's minds on the issue, what we CAN do is a lot more important than "being right."  If anything, we can simply state what we believe and why, and people will hear what they want to hear. In our communities, we can make the facts and numbers better known to people outside of the education system. And regardless of who is right or wrong, those who choose to might as well prepare for what could happen (or is already happening.) That is, forget about who does or does not believe there is a problem, and just think for yourself and do as much as you can do to make a difference! It could be as simple as riding your bike to work one day each week, buying locally grown apples next time you're at the supermarket, or as complex as switching your home to solar energy. All of these things can make a difference, and serve as an example to others.

 

Windmills
 
I personally believe that we as a society will change over from fossil fuels before our planet is in total ruin from rising CO2 levels. It is already taking place and it's starting to be quite noticeable.  Just in my neighborhood I see more and more solar panels on peoples' homes.  Windmills are going up all over the place also.  Look at how much more efficient a light bulb is today compared to a few years ago.  Things are changing rapidly with energy technology and efficiency.  Battery technology is also moving up the ladder.  The alternative technology is exciting and becoming mainstream for whoever wants it--and people are flocking to it!

Can we save money by using alternative energy?

The one thing you can bet on to turn people green who deny climate change is to keep more green in their wallets.  Regardless of their beliefs on the topic, if it's cheaper to use alternatives than oil... guess what they will buy!  We have been enjoying the lower prices at the pump for some time now.  Although good for the pocket book, it makes alternative sources of energy appear more expensive.
 
All new technologies start off being expensive with prices lowering as time goes on. We are getting closer to the tipping point of alternatives costing less than fossil fuels. It's too bad solar panels were not discovered before oil as a source of energy. If so, the idea of drilling way down into the ground to pump up some black oily stuff as a fuel would sound ludicrous!  It would also be cost prohibitive as a new technology.  But this is the norm that we have to continue to challenge by further developing alternative energy sources and making them more feasible.
 
A great way to challenge the stubborn ideas about climate change is to set an example and do little things that make a difference. Stop the arguing, and just do what you know is right. Be a fan of the new technology and back it any way you can to be a part of it. If many of us take a little action now we will be on our way to avert a climate calamity.
 
What are some ways you approach arguments over climate change? Which is the best way to be peaceful and productive about scientific beliefs? Share with us in the comments!

 

 Jim

 

 

 

 

 




James Sauer
James Sauer

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