Why is there such passionate debate over climate change? It’s not like many global problems tend to inflame heated debate all too often at a local level, but climate change is different because it’s such an old and unresolved serious problem. When acid rain was destroying forests, swifter action was taken to reduce the damage. Climate change, caused by global warming greenhouse gases from burned hydrocarbons, is not as small a problem as the still massively destructive acid rain. Perhaps the industries affected by acid rain legislation learned in the interim how to resist the changes that made them pay more to pollute.
Climate change is a well supported scientific fact, yet there are many people who remain skeptical to an unreasonable extent. It’s healthy to be skeptical of all facts, to a point, as curiosity leads to further discovery. It’s unhelpful to be perpetually skeptical after reasonable efforts to test alternate theories have been exhausted, or if the test poses too dire a risk. Imagine if you were skeptical of the scientific understanding of gravity. You theorize that on Tuesdays after a full Moon, you have a chance of surviving a fall from a 15 story building. That’s an unreasonably dangerous (and foolish) risk if you test that theory.
Why are people passionate over their unfounded and risky theory that climate change is not a threat to civilization or themselves? There are many reasons, but to list a few:
- Job depends on fossil fuel industry, and they see a threat to their income if the required economic and lifestyle changes to reduce pollution are adopted by the masses.
- Religious belief depends on undermining scientific understanding of the world.
- People or media they respect experience one of the two pressures mentioned above, or another misleading influence.
- Some people on the Internet, known as trolls, will take ridiculous positions simply to irritate and provoke other people to respond to them.
- Feeling can supersede thought, so once someone feels a certain way about a subject, it is very difficult for rational discussion to change a mind which would otherwise respond to new data.
You have to wonder why people would oppose the understanding of a theory that predicts catastrophe if we continue on the Industrial Revolution’s course, unchanged. Isn’t humankind’s strength its ability to adapt to changing situations and new information? Isn’t it better to use advance information, rather than wait for disaster to befall some of our peers (or ourselves) before learning to take another route? The answer must lie in psychology and sociology.
It’s become fashionable for people to oppose (or present) climate change information in a passionate, emotionally charged manner, because the debate is not winnable through the presentation of facts alone. Too many people have a poor understanding of climate change, and are proud of the position they’ve taken. To step back and examine the facts would mean emotional discomfort which people tend to avoid if a situation does not appear to require immediate action to resolve it. Since climate change is a multi-decade building crisis, ‘immediate action’ rarely describes how people respond to the problem either individually, or as a nation (or globe).
What can be done to change the negative reaction skeptics and climate change deniers have toward this problem? I’m not sure scientists can out-reason the passionately misinformed, or environmentalists can outspend the misinformation machine that is well funded by the richest corporations and CEOs in the world. It’s a battle to win hearts and minds, and hearts need to be won quickly before mislead minds can start joining those working for solutions to our pollution problems.
How do we win hearts though, and convince people theirs won’t break by setting our society on a search for an economic system that can give them comfortable lives that don’t rely quite so much on hydrocarbon energy? Building systems that people can buy into, and pollute much less with, is one obvious approach. Do we have enough time? I don’t care, I’m still going to try.