Climate is right up there with religion and politics as topics to be avoided at polite gatherings, but I still find myself talking with climate skeptics while passing time beside beer coolers at various events. Regardless of the setting or the beer, I typically hear variations of the same 6 reasons for skepticism:
- The biosphere is too complex and science too uncertain, so we should wait to act until we know for sure.
- Human ingenuity will solve any problems if impacts of climate change become consequential, so we should wait to act until then.
- Mitigation is impossible because it requires global collaboration among self-interested actors such as corporations and nation states, so we can’t solve the problem even if we wanted to.
- Mitigation solutions require actions by governments, which are inefficient and corrupt, so we should not try.
- China, India, and other nations are building many new coal-fired power plants, so mitigation by others won’t matter.
- Climate scientists have made mistakes in the past, so climate science can’t be trusted.
I can offer rational counter arguments for each, but, like god and politics, beliefs about climate are tightly bound up with a person’s identity. Facts, logic, and rational argument don’t make a dent. If I have enough time, beer and trust to penetrate the skeptic’s core values behind their arguments, I typically find one of four issues:
- Skeptics are risk tolerant and willing to risk the chance of future catastrophe for faster progress today.
- Skeptics are willing to accept that wealthy countries will fare better than the world’s poor should climate change occur.
- Skeptics have faith that it is all part of God’s plan, who will intervene if it is part of that plan.
- Skeptics are so anti-government that anything associated with government is tainted. Climate science and climate mitigation involve government, are thusly tainted, and must be avoided.
What really gets me frustrated is when skeptics critique climate science–as if the skeptics had insights that climate scientists don’t. Many skeptics devote considerable time Googling climate science mistakes and are quick to confront me with some tidbit I can’t explain (I have stopped trying, see next blog). They cite specific mistakes of climate scientists as proof that the climate science is wrong. In so doing, skeptics conflate scientists with the process of science, forgetting that science is built on the premise of making mistakes and learning from them.
For the most part, the people I’m speaking with are bright, articulate, and successful professionals. These very same people scoff at non-expert opinions about their own professional content. They expect others to defer to them regarding the topics in which they work every day to gain and enhance expertise. Yet, they presume to know climate science better than climate scientists (for the record, I am not a climate scientist).
Pogo was right: we have seen the enemy and it is us. Humanity’s biggest challenge is our arrogance and ignorance.