Just when I thought that only a few close friends were reading my blog I picked up a copy of this week’s Sierra Magazine and discovered a review of a book by Andrew Hoffman which restates what I have been saying for years. He must have been peeking at my blog! Right? Hoffman’s book, titled How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, maintains that folks who cling to the illusion that climate change is…..an illusion…. are conditioned by their deepest biases and find it very difficult, if not impossible, to abandon them, even if they are shown that they are dead wrong. As the review notes,
“Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, first lays out the psychological and social biases people bring to the climate discussion and then suggests techniques for making that conversation more productive. (A combination of empathy and clever framing is the key.)”
Leaving aside for the moment the vague aspect of the concept of “framing,” let’s consider the notion that folks cling to their belief systems like a fragile raft in a river of uncertainty and refuse to let go simply because someone points out that they are headed for a waterfall. This is what I have noted in a number of blogs over the years. Lately I have suggested that fear is the basis for those values we hold most dear. Climate change deniers fear letting go of the raft more than they do the coming maelstrom. I still believe this is the case and that Professor Hoffman hasn’t dug deep enough. It is fear that is the glue that holds those values and beliefs together.
In the case of climate change, we are told that in a Pew Research Center poll conducted in June it was determined that
“Americans’ views on whether the planet is heating up have barely changed since 2006 despite growing scientific consensus and an increasing number of climate-related disasters.”
This is alarming, to be sure. But if we accept the fact that beliefs and values are what constitutes the person we can accept the fact that they will not be abandoned readily. In fact, those “climate-related disasters” must come close to home and be repeated, I expect, before most people will accept the fact that they have been living in a dream world. They must actually see and hear the waterfall. As I say, I suspect it will be fear of a greater magnitude than they have experienced thus far, since they can easily regard those climate-related disasters as someone else’s problem. This is the same rationalization folks use when they refuse to use their seat belts or wear helmets when riding their motor cycles — because they can’t imagine that they themselves would ever have an accident. Some people simply need to be hit over the head. Twice.
This brings us to Professor Hoffman’s notion that it is possible to have a “productive” conversation, that the values and beliefs of climate change doubters can be changed by “empathy and clever framing.” I seriously doubt it: this is where I part company with Professor Hoffman. I’m not sure what he means by “framing,” though I suppose it may be the way we put things to those who deny. But no matter how empathetic we appear or how we state our case, those of us who know that climate change is a serious problem will never persuade those who disagree with us by any sort of rhetorical trickery. As I say, those beliefs and values are grounded in fear and it will take a major emotional shock to dislodge them. What might get the process started, perhaps, is the increasing number of weather disasters close to home coupled with steadily rising cost of food in the stores and a ban on watering accompanied by the rising cost of water to drink and even to flush the toilet — not to mention such things as debilitating diseases in the person’s immediate circle of family and friends coupled with rising health costs. But even these measures may not be enough to dissuade the chronically closed-minded. It’s small wonder that very few have changed their minds since 2006. It’s just very sad.