Mar. 15, 2019

It's not about facts and evidence

So, I was at the gym the other day when I hear a guy talking about how cold it was this winter and how all that talk about global warming was just a hoax. I had just finished my cardio- workout and I was still out of breath. I really tried to exercise some restraint (no pun intended). I took deep breaths and attempted to use my mental discipline to be non-responsive. I’m really not a confrontational person, it’s just that this is my area of passion and I consider myself to be moderately if not above average informed on the subject of anthropogenic climate change. Not that I’ve read the hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers published yearly on the topic- who has the time to keep up with the preponderance of evidence?  But I do try to stay informed.

I do understand how the warming of the Arctic has allow the jet stream to dip into mid-latitudes bringing frigid temperatures further south. I tried to explain this to the man at the gym while still breathless from my workout. He then began to complain about people, the elusive they, who voice concern over the environment while living high on the hog. They fly around the country, the world, drive big cars and live in big houses. They are making money off the hoax somehow. Of course, I reminded him, petrochemical corporations and the fossil fuel industry really do make excessive profits from non-renewable resources, including massive government subsidies. It is they who are perpetuating a misinformation campaign, the true hoax, at the expense of quality atmosphere, ocean, forests and other ecosystems across the planet.  

But then I changed my tact. Facts don’t really move the ideologically driven. I told him I was a grandparent and had concerns about the quality of the world we were going to leave for them and everybody else’s grandkids. He began to complain about they again, but I simply replied that I will hold to my values regardless of what they are doing. He didn’t seem to get what I was saying because he then began to tell me about how his liberal brother drives a big expensive car and I realized I was talking to a brick wall thick with resentment. His argument had nothing to do with the facts or evidence. Now I’ve got myself involved in an argument with a guy who needs to have an argument with someone else and I am trapped in this uncomfortable dialogue. I grabbed my gear and left the gym.

I found a meta-analysis regarding the attributes of people who are climate change skeptics and included some excerpts.

Hornsey, M. J., Harris, E. A., Bain, P. G., & Fielding, K. S. (2016). Meta-analyses               of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change.                                               Nature Climate Change, 6, p. 622-626.

The link between climate change beliefs and political ideology (that is, the extent to which people report being liberal or conservative, reported along a continuous scale and measured independently of voting intention) is significant, but less strong. This suggests that acceptance of climate change is more aligned to specific identification with political parties than to underlying political ideologies.

Relatively small effects were found for the other demographic variables: age, education, income, race, and sex. People with stronger beliefs in climate change were younger, more educated, higher income, and more likely to be non-white and female, but these effects were muted. 

Consistent with the reasoning of many theorists in this area, the data suggest that ‘evidence’ around climate change is searched, remembered, and assimilated in a way that dovetails with people’s own political loyalties and their worldviews. For some, this may lead to a disregard for (or misunderstanding of) the scientific consensus around climate change. In the face of this, one can argue that there are limits to the extent to which sceptics can be ‘converted’ through facts and explication alone, and it is equally implausible that climate scientists can change people’s underlying values and political allegiances. Instead, some have argued that pro-environmental behaviors can be coaxed out of people by working with their ideologies rather than against them; for example by framing pro-environmental action as a form of patriotism or as an investment in ‘green’ technologies.

So, arguing the facts is not an effective means to address climate change deniers. One might think the deniers are simply uninformed and providing facts and evidence would move them towards understanding. But this is not the case. If it was a matter of facts, there simply would not be a political debate. The science is clear. It’s ignorance by choice or propaganda because of entrenchment in ridged political ideology fed by corporate misinformation and manipulation of people’s fear and anger.

So, instead of arguing the facts, I will talk about my grandchildren, nephews, neices and all the other children. I will talk about my values regarding quality air and water instead of providing evidence and citing studies. I will move from a mental approach to a heart-centered one. Love is a powerful electromagnetic field and though it is subtle, love has moved mountains. Maybe it can move a few brick walls too.