Saturday, October 05, 2013

How to talk to a climate change skeptic if you must


CCDenierAfter arrested we allow defendants to plead their case for only so long. They’re allowed expert help and ample time to convince a jury of their innocence. The jury deliberates and then decides. On Climate Change, the jury has decided. The verdict is in:

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models. Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850…,” (IPCC PRESS RELEASE, 27 September 2013)

I make this loose analogy of the US legal system for the case against Climate Change deniers to make a point about decision time on Climate Change. Of course the US legal system is fraught with inequities and injustice but, just for a moment, let’s pretend it works as intended. At a specific juncture in our legal continuum the defendant is judged guilty or non-guilty. A judge communicates the jury’s verdict, and at that moment either the defendant walks free or goes to the crowbar hotel.

We desperately need such a specific juncture in the public debate about Climate Change. For over thirty years, the merchants of doubt have kept the media and our public in a state of irrational doubt and confusion over the most important crisis of our age. I say ‘irrational’ because, even though Climate Change is a deeply complex science that has experts scrambling all over the world to accrue the kind of rigor required for world governments to act as one on bringing greenhouse gas emissions down, 95% of climate scientists have spoken with absolute clarity. Unless we bring our atmospheric temperature down, our planetary environment may be rendered uninhabitable.

Those not satisfied with the many climate studies (including the International Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which substantiates the IPCC’s previous studies with more certainty) feel threatened by the implications of these studies to their beliefs. They will not stop their efforts to hijack our collective ability to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change to save their version of reality.

Someone who doesn’t appreciate how science works and finds 95% agreement among climate scientists not good enough, may ask: What if the Climate Change science is wrong and we upset our economic and political systems for nothing? This sounds like a sensible question except that the standard for measuring the state of our environmental health is to induce that 4.5 billion years of life on this planet defines a healthy planet, rather than deducing environmental healthiness from the absurd position of free market fundamentalism. It would be like asking if a group of people on a spaceship had the right to use the ship’s air system, waste system, and communication system for any purpose they wanted. The answer (regardless of one’s idea of Freedom) is clear; you cannibalize these systems for something other than what they were intended, and it’s game over.

Climate Change skepticism is a major hurdle in our efforts to solve this crisis and we need to address it. I’m not talking about serious scientists asking serious questions relating to the impossibly difficult science of climate. That’s how science works. I’m talking about those seeking to increase public doubt on Climate Change by cynical artifice and throwing our collective ability to act into an endless quagmire.

President-elect Barack Obama stated this problem emphatically years ago: “The science is beyond dispute… Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.” (Climate Progress, November 18, 2008)

So, the answer to how to talk to a climate change skeptic is not to argue with them at all. Providing these folks with more facts, more certainty, and more patience will be fruitless. The truth is that you cannot have a conversation with a determined climate change skeptic. Trying to change a climate change skeptic’s mind is like trying to teach a pig to talk. You can’t do it, and it irritates the pig. Their goal is to tie us up in knots forever for their short-term gain.

A climate change skeptic’s argument only makes sense if you haven’t done your homework and haven’t read any climate studies. The facts we do know about our climate system and the many unknown unknowns are enough to motivate nations to work as one to this common threat.

Climate Change means planning. We have to plan. We have to plan to save our way of life, others’ lives, and other beings’ ecosystems on a time scale very far ahead of the tipping points that make collapses inevitable. Doubt on the validity of Climate Change offers us a deadly hope because, like the songs of the mythic sirens, the beast within us will always yearn for lies that endless consumption and fossil fuel energy will lead us to the only thing that seems to matter, our own creature comforts.

We should talk to a climate change skeptic in the way one communicates with a rabid racist--with stone cold silence. A furious silence that pervades the media and all forms of public discourse so that climate denial becomes that which cannot be spoken aloud for it displays an abhorrent disregard to all people, plants, animals, and ecologies around the word. We don’t have the hundreds of years it took for most in this country to rise above racism; Climate Change will force us to be better stewards of our planet—or it won’t.

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