In his book The Believing Brain author Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, makes the following proposal: belief comes first, then the reasons for belief comes second. So to use an example, an individual might believe in ghosts, so she will then find the reasons to support that belief. That cold spot in the attic is not caused by a deficiency of heat from the furnace, but by the presence of a supernatural being.
This is also the way the world of climate change deniers work. First comes the belief that climate change does not exist, second comes the search for reasons to support that belief. And, as we have seen repeatedly, any reason will do. The result is that anyone who even remotely suggests that climate change is bogus is latched on to and held up like a conquering hero, regardless how dubious their credentials are.
However, if a one-time climate change skeptic goes over to the other side, the community’s response is to bitterly accuse them of being “bought off” or pressured into changing their opinion. This was the case of for scientist Richard Muller who publicly doubted the existence of climate change but after repeated experiments on his own came to the conclusion in 2012 that it did indeed exist.
Now it’s also fair to say that for those of us who do believe that climate change is real, the process is the same. But the reasons for our belief are grounded in study after study after study by some the world’s best scientists which shows the existence of global warming caused by human activity.
Perhaps the best example of this landslide of evidence was the now famous skit in which comedian John Oliver, tired of the media’s choosing one spokesman for and one spokesman against climate change to reflect the scientific outlook on the issue, brought up three people to represent climate change deniers on a panel, and 97 others who represented the scientific community’s actual position that global climate change is real.
But we know, of course that it won’t make any difference. Because if you believe that global warming is a hoax, like Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma – who will soon be in charge of the very Senate committee that is responsible for responding to global climate change – then all of the scientific studies and facts and proofs in the world won’t make one bit of difference. Because it’s the belief that matters not the evidence that disproves it. Unlike Mr. Muller, who as a scientist is supposed to have an open mind towards the possibility of his initial conclusions being wrong, Sen. Inhofe is under no such obligation.
No, the good senator is not likely to change when Republicans receive millions of dollars in funding from gas and oil and coal companies, whose opposition to global climate change is all about the Benjamins and not because they may or may not believe in it. One might hypothesize that the only reasonable way to expect the GOP to change is for someone with even more money, who believes in climate change, to provide them with funding. Politics runs on the theory that belief is an economic system and that the beliefs of highest bidder are the right ones.
The one thing that might change their mind is how people vote in an election. Now it’s fair to say that for much of the past few decades while scientists have been warning us about the problems of climate change, the issue of itself has not been much of a vote bonanza . In fact, the GOP has often used it scare voters by saying if we make the changes necessary to save the climate, and maybe the world, you’ll lose your job. It’s a pretty powerful argument if you live in a place where the effects of climate change may not be as pronounced as they are in other areas. For now.
But something is happening. And you saw that something reflected in the recent agreement between China and the United States about climate change.
The fact that China, the world’s biggest economy, (at least in terms of its size, not necessarily its actual wealth making potential) is willing to say “Okay, we recognize there’s a problem so were going to do our best to cap our emissions by this particular date regardless of the fact that it may slow us down economically” is fairly important. Unlike America, where your political stance often reflects your belief about climate change, regardless of any scientific evidence, Chinese leaders – who are a pretty uniform lot and basically make decisions that support the economy while suppressing public freedoms – have made the decision that climate change is a problem.
And when you have countries like this, who for so long fought against any treaty that would lower carbon emissions, changing their minds, this undermines another pillar of the climate change skeptics house built on the sand of dubious science and carbon producers’ billions. It also becomes a potentially powerful argument in the hands of those who are trying to convince voters to support politicians you want to stop climate change.
So as climate change increasingly produces killer hurricanes, tornadoes and and polar vortexes, as huge chunks of Antarctic ice break off from the continent because of warming temperatures, as small islands around the world begin to vanish as sea levels rise, it is going to become harder and harder for climate change deniers to avoid the obvious. Many of them will, of course, but here’s hoping enough American voters wake up to the realities of a warming global climate because as the recent United Nations final report on climate change recently said we are almost out of time to make any difference at all.
Copyright Tom Regan 2014
Contact Tom Regan:: firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading on Facts and Opinions*:
In Expert Witness, Mark Maslin answers his question, How does the IPCC know climate change is happening? In reporting, Verbatim: Climate change to cause food shortages, mass extinctions, flooding, excerpts the fifth IPCC report, with a summary by Deborah Jones. Also read F&O ‘s Natural Security columnist Chris Wood; Tzeporah Berman in The Pointy End and also on finding hope in environmental activism and on The Ugly Oil Sands Debate. ”Expert Witnesses” Brad Allenby writes On Geoengineering: a case for sophisticated thinking and Bradley J. Cardinale looks at Biodiversity in the Anthropocene. Desmond Tutu makes An Argument for Carbon Divestment.
Our blog post, Focus on Climate Change, includes select reactions to the IPCC report and a few recommended readings elsewhere.
Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, and Boston Globe in the United States.
The former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.
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