In an earlier post, I wrote what I thought was a reasoned and well-researched response to some common misconceptions about climate change. The reply I received was hostile in tone:
The claim that both liberals and conservatives politicize the climate change debate is disingenuous at best. It it the liberals who are fomenting hysteria and using distortion and outright LIES to push their agenda which is establishing soc…ialism and destroying capitalism.
It is unambiguously clear that climate change has become politicized. Generally speaking, in the United States Democrats acknowledge climate change is happening and driven by human activity while Republicans, and the Tea Party in particular, do not. But how is this possible? How is it that one’s political affiliation, which is really a statement of preferences, values, and morals, can dictate which facts they choose to accept. Facts are facts, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Research done at Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project reveals that people disagree “sharply and persistently about facts on which expert scientists largely agree.” To quote from their research:
“Scientific opinion fails to quiet societal dispute on such issues not because members of the public are unwilling to defer to experts but because culturally diverse persons tend to form opposing perceptions of what experts believe. Individuals systematically overestimate the degree of scientific support for positions they are culturally predisposed to accept as a result of a cultural availability effect that influences how readily they can recall instances of expert endorsement of those positions.”
As evidence in support of this conclusion, here is more from the reply I received to my last post:
The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich made many predictions, NONE of which came true. Then the parade of Hollywood celebrities, such as Ted Dansen who appeared on the Johnny Carson show sometime in the ’80’s, claiming somewhat hysterically that if we didn’t do something, the oceans would be dead by the early 1990’s. The oceans aren’t dead. In the early 1990’s, one of the actesses in Head of the Class (Khrystyne Haje) did an hour special that aired on the Disney Channel detailing the “rain forests” of Brazil. She claimed that a certain number of acres per second were being burned, the the number seemed high to me, so I wrote it down and looked up the square acreage of Brazil, and ran the numbers. According to my math, the ENTIRE country of Brazil, including cities, lakes and rivers would have been burned down in about 3 and a half years. Brazil is still unburnt. I could go on, but we all know of examples of this kind of hysteria equivalent to “the sky is falling.”
Clearly, this person has an entire collection of facts at her disposal and she is not afraid to wield them. However, nowhere in her reply did she directly respond to any of the 18 separate citations I provided. Because these references were coming from me, an untrustworthy and potentially antagonistic source, she was less likely to embrace them.
Here’s another example from the reply to my post:
And then there’s the scandal of faking data that was uncovered last year. Even scientists can be motivated to lie. More government money, job security, prestige, face time on TV, it can all be very seductive.
She’s referencing the controversy surrounding climate scientists at the University of East Anglia last year where in an email a scientist suggested using a “trick” to “hide the decline” while other scientists ridiculed climate change skeptics. For those predisposed to reject the veracity of climate change, these are damning pieces of evidence.
The question is whether or not those same individuals equally weighted the reports that largely exonerated East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit including those from House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee, an independent science assessment panel, Penn State University, and the US’s Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Commerce.
The simple truth is that as human beings we preferentially seek out news and opinions that coincide with our world views. For liberals this might mean watching The Daily Show as opposed to Bill O’Reilly. For conservatives it might involve favoring The Drudge Report over The Huffington Post.
But when it comes to critically important issues like pollution, the deficit, gun control, climate change, etc. we have an obligation to overcome our baser natures and commit ourselves to objective study. For my part, I have read and carefully considered all manner of arguments both supporting and denying climate change (see, e.g., this post) and have come to an inescapable conclusion: climate change is real and it is almost certainly being caused by human activity. My only hope is that others take a critical look at their own prejudices and do the same.