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The denial of science - what does it come from?

The denial of science has nothing and nothing to do with science itself

Polarization means tribalism. American society has become so tribal that belonging to the political left is like a statement of faith, a declaration that the phenomenon of climate change is real. And similarly, identifying with the right necessarily means denying climate change. Pictured: A sign with the inscription "Science is real", at the Women's March in Washington DC. Si, January 21, 2017. Photo: Liz Lemon.
Polarization means tribalism. American society has become so tribal that belonging to the political left is like a statement of faith, a declaration that the phenomenon of climate change is real. And similarly, identifying with the right necessarily means denying climate change. In the photo: A sign with the inscription "Science is real", at the Women's March in Washington DC. C, January 21, 2017, held the day after Trump's inauguration. Photo: Liz Lemon.

By Kathryn Hayhoe, Jen Schwartz, the article is published with the permission of Scientific American Israel and the Ort Israel Network 24.10.2017

Although the climate researcher Catherine Heyhoo Born and raised in Canada, she understands, perhaps more than anyone else, the polarized positions on climate change that divide the United States. She is credited with extensive and impressive activity in this field: she serves as co-director of the Climate Science Center and as a professor in the Department of Political Science at the Texas Tech University, as well as as CEO Consulting company on the impact of climate change on our lives; She is the creator of the network series Mythbusters Global Weirding; She drives an electric car as a matter of principle, and in her faith, she is an evangelical Christian. As someone who sees herself, as she defines it, as living "in the shadow of many tribal traditions," it would be amazing to get her message across, whether she's meeting with groups of libertarian Christians or sitting on a panel alongside Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio. As such, Hayao is considered one of the most respected and sought-after climate spokespeople in the US - but is also the target of quite a few hate letters. In a conversation with a Scientific American reporter, Hayhoo talks about the need to fight for the factual truth, and about the smoke screens used by those who doubt climate change and man-made global warming. Edited excerpts from the conversation are presented here.

The denial of science is, fundamentally, an anti-intellectual act. This approach has been running through different layers of American society for decades and maybe even hundreds of years. Isaac Asimov He said already in 1980 that this attitude "is fed by the false idea that democracy means that 'my knowledge is no less good than your knowledge.' Today we are once again dealing with the phenomenon, as it manifested itself recently, at its peak.

Casting doubt on climate change is a special case of science denial, which, as we know, raised its head as early as Galileo's time. The Catholic Church showed no opposition to Galileo's ideas as long as he did not leave the ivory tower and did not spread them widely. Her tolerant attitude towards his work changed when he published his writings not in Latin, as was customary, but in Italian, a language understood by the masses of the people, thus exposing them to ideas diametrically opposed to the official view of the Church. This was also Darwin's fate. The church had no problem with the theory of evolution he came up with as long as he did not publish it to the general public, in a book that was a bestseller.

A similar scenario will be revealed to our eyes now. Already since the 90s, we have known that there is a connection between carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and global warming. More than 19 years have passed since scientists warned the then US President Lyndon B. Johnson about the northern dangers of climate change. But in those days the scientists were not the target of a flood of hate letters, like the ones that flood me today. Well, what has changed since then? The turning point was, apparently, the testimony of [climate scientist from Columbia University] James Hansen in the US Congress in 1988. Hansen declared that a resource on which we all depend - and which enriches many of the largest companies in the world - harms not only the environment, but humanity as a whole. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that Hansen is the most vilified and attacked climate scientist in the US. He was the first person to come out of the ivory tower and start talking about global warming in the public sphere, where it was no longer possible to ignore its implications regarding policy and politics.

As you can see, therefore, the problem people have with science is not rooted in science itself. People have a problem with the implications of science for their worldview and even more so, for their ideology. When anti-intellectualism floats and rises to the surface, the cause of this is new findings with immediate consequences that the scientific community brings to the attention of the public and its leaders, and that challenge the views of those in a position of power and undermine the status quo in which they are entrenched. Renewable energy poses a real threat to them today. And the higher the feasibility of the implementation of innovative technologies, the stronger the resistance they arouse. But this backlash is nothing more than a last-minute desperate effort to stop and prevent change no matter what, and therein lies the explanation for the rising wave of his denial that we have recently witnessed.

The achievements heard today regarding climate science are formulated in seemingly scientific terms - this is a natural cyclical process; The scientists themselves are not sure; global cooling; And maybe volcanic eruptions are the cause of warming? - or even in apparently religious terms - God directs everything from above - but in 99% of cases, this language is nothing more than a smoke screen. And if you refuse to address these arguments even briefly, if only for the sake of discussion, the conversation will inevitably lead to deep opposition to the proposed solutions to the problem of climate change.

What do things really mean?

Most often, people turn to me with a request: "Could you talk to my son-in-law, to my representative in Congress, to my colleague at work? If you just explain the facts to them, they will undoubtedly change their minds." Well, it's a trap. Such an approach would turn us into Don Quixotes fighting windmills. There's no point in a response like: "Listen, that's how we know it's not a natural cyclical process!" This type of response almost never achieves the desired result. A constructive dialogue with the detractors can only take place by referring to what really bothers them.

How did the narrative of climate change become an arena of conflict between polarized positions based on faith? Polls show that political polarization in the US has reached alarming levels today compared to the situation 20 or 30 years ago. This polarization means the increase of tribalism: blind, unquestioning adherence to the principles of tribal tradition and belief - each person and his belief. Unfortunately, since the proposed solutions to the problem of climate change seem to challenge the ideology of the right side of the political spectrum, this issue has been one of the most controversial issues in the US. American society has become so tribal that belonging to the political left is like a statement of faith, a declaration that the phenomenon of climate change is real. And similarly, identifying with the right necessarily means denying climate change. It is therefore no wonder that the language of "faith" is the language in which the discourse on the subject is conducted.

Catherine Heyhoo. Photo: Kai T. Dragland / NTNU.
Catherine Heyhoo. Photo: Kai T. Dragland / NTNU.

At the same time, climate change is deliberately presented as a false religion by those seeking to convince people of religious faith that they should reject it. It is not uncommon to meet conservative politicians who declare: "I am a person of faith, and I reject the opinion that God does not rule the world." This is a very sophisticated method of conveying messages, because if I am a believing Christian, and more than 70% of Americans are believing Christians, religion teaches me to beware of false prophets. And the message is: beware of people who say things that sound good, but, in fact, lead you to worship the creatures instead of the Creator, to worship the earth, instead of the Creator of the world.

When I appear before an audience of skeptics, people sometimes come up to me at the end of the lecture and say: "You know, what you're saying sounds reasonable, and I wish I could agree with you, but I simply can't because it would mean that I agree with Al Gore.” Everything that is perceived as earth worship arouses in them a deep inner resistance. One of the funniest pictures I show in some of my shows is that of the Church of Climatology, where we see Al Gore as a preacher and politicians and other celebrities as members of the choir accompanying him. One of my listeners once photoshopped the face of one of the choir members into my face image. I thought it was hilarious to the point of tears, and I can understand him, I understand what people feel. We need to have a little laugh together before we can move on to the discussion of beliefs vs. evidence.

Which is why Al Gore is one of the best and worst speakers on climate change. He is one of the best because he is so passionate, knowledgeable about the subject and manages to touch people and influence them. However - and I know he recognizes this - in the politically polarized society we live in, he clearly belongs to only one tribe. And by the very definition of tribalism, this means that the other tribe must necessarily reject it - and everything it represents.

Climate change is also, of course, the tragedy of the common people, and it requires community action. However, the USA, more than any other country in the world, sanctifies individualism - it arose and was founded following a rebellion against a strong government and against the taxes it imposed. Therefore, many Americans will be open to a discussion that focuses on market-based solutions or technological solutions that are consistent with their values ​​and not try to change their identity. Take for example John Cook, [an Australian cognitive scientist], who founded the blog Skeptical Science, the special one for the discussion and the fight against the denial of global warming. John was unable to convince even his father to acknowledge climate change. That is, until his father, who advocates a conservative fiscal policy, took advantage of a [government] benefit program to install solar panels on the roof of his house. Installing the boards saved him money and he started telling everyone how wonderful they were. One day he said to John: "You know, this climate change is probably real, and I'm doing my part." He didn't have to become a "tree hugger" saving whales. Now he could integrate climate change into his personal identity.

Even in the scientific community there is confusion about the proper way to convey the message. The lack of information model - just give them the facts! - is not effective in public discourse, unless the entire public is politically neutral. Hence the growing importance of the social sciences. A different experimental approach, the one I am applying, is described in an article by a colleague of mine, who asked me to speak on the subject to students at an evangelical church college. Before and after the lecture, the students were asked what their position was regarding global warming. Their answers indicated significant statistical differences between their positions before they listened to my words and after them. Studies of this type examining methods for conveying messages are currently being conducted by many. A new area of ​​research deals with the question of how people react to information. And an answer to this question is urgently required, since the accepted method so far for conveying messages has not proven itself.

Scientists also tend to underestimate the impact of climate change. As one scholar said, "Our mistake lies in trying to avoid drama." We reviewed studies conducted over 20 years and found that we systematically underestimate the rate of change and the rate at which it occurs. Climate science is under a magnifying glass and public criticism of it is so strict that we prefer not to say anything until we are 99.9% sure of the results. But aren't we taking a too conservative position? It's a challenge I face every day.

The work that is still right for us

We will not be able to solve all these problems - cultural, political, psychological - and only then take necessary action on climate change. People say to me: "If only you could first convince the public of the correctness of science..." and I think to myself, yes, of course, good luck with the task! How exactly has it fared in the last few centuries? The climate problem is an urgent problem. The window of opportunity is closing. And we must address the issue together with the fractured, imperfect society in which we live today.

First, we must ask what are the values ​​that people advocate, what is their background, what do they like, what do they fear, what motivates them when they get up in the morning. In conversations with people on the subject, I say: "We can agree to disagree, but don't you support the solar energy plants, which have created so many jobs in Texas? Do you know that the Fort Hood military base is powered by solar energy because it is cheaper?" If someone thinks that solar power protects us from immigrants or terrorists or the devil, great, let's go for it. When I appear in front of certain population groups, I don't even mention the words "climate" and "change" in sequence. In conversations with believing Christians, we talk about the biblical message of saving the soul. In conversations with libertarians we discuss free market strategies. In meetings with groups of mothers, we talk about the impact of environmental pollution on children's health. And when I talk to farmers, I tell them: "You are the pillar of our food system; In your experience, what changes have occurred in drought patterns over the years?" I am not discussing at all the concept of political division into left and right in the context of climate science. And don't let the media portray things like that. Instead, we should focus on solutions to the situation and its consequences.

My best advice to anyone involved in promoting public awareness of climate science, or any other scientific topic, is: don't focus on the deniers. They are only a small part of the population, and most of them are older white men. Most of them, it seems, are currently concentrated in the city of Washington. People who react so emotionally do so because they have defined their identity around this denial. In fact, denial has become an inseparable part of them, like their heart or their kidneys. If you ask them to change their mind, they will see it as a real threat. There is definitely a place to stand up against them in public debates, and tell them: "You lost the confrontation." And the evidence." But this, not with the aim of changing their minds, but to show all the others that the answers are in our hands.

And that's the heart of the matter: polls conducted by Yale University on climate science communication show that most Americans agree that the phenomenon of climate change is indeed real, that humans are causing it and that it is essential to do something about it. But the main problem is that 60% of Americans believe that climate change does not affect them personally. They believe that this is a problem that concerns poor people in poor countries or a phenomenon that may affect future generations. We naturally tend to ignore serious problems that are difficult for us to deal with as long as they do not have an immediate effect on us. Indeed, until recently we felt protected, thanks to our infrastructure, and the programs that secure our agricultural crops and our homes. But not anymore, and my job is to present the picture in its entirety.

Therefore, we [my authors The government report to assess the state of the climate in the USA] We decided to write an appendix this year: a special report on climate science. This is the first time we have done this, and it is the most complete and comprehensive government report on climate change ever published. These days the report is undergoing final approval processes by the federal authorities and is expected to be published in November 2017, and we are awaiting responses. [Editors note: The special report leaked to the media Shortly after this interview was held.] We invested a lot of effort in drafting the report in a language that would be understandable to the general public, and it seems to me that this is the end of the political confrontation between the major parties. The report brings the scientific discussion back to the plane of our lives on Earth. You can learn from him how climate change affects the water and food we consume, our economy, agriculture, infrastructure and security.

The purpose of the report is to provide a scientific basis for anyone who wants to know, both generally and specifically, why climate change is important to us now. Many, very many in the US look at what is happening from the sidelines, avoid involvement, and most of the time their voices are not heard. We must filter out the background noise coming from among the climate change deniers and turn to those hiding in the margins, attentive to what is happening, not yet sure what position to adopt regarding the action to be taken, and yet, open to dialogue. We must therefore ignore the thick smokescreen spread by the deniers. If we delude ourselves that climate change deniers can be convinced by the power of more and more facts, we will be distracted by a much larger group of people who want to understand why and how we should strive to find solutions to the situation. Which is exactly what the climate change deniers would like to see happen.

By Kathryn Hayhoe, in conversation with Jen Schwartz

See more on the subject on the science website:

6 תגובות

  1. Identity politics is a current within the left, which is identified with a part of liberalism. There are leftists who understand that this is a bluff that indeed shatters society into thousands of pieces, each of which supposedly has an opposing interest - black Christian lesbians against white Jewish lesbians and so on. What exactly does socialism have to do with it? After all, the socialists had a completely opposite opinion - "the workers of the whole world united" - the opposite of identity politics (which analyzes all things in terms of what is your sexual identity, what is your origin, etc. - very different from the socialist analysis that focused on classes or on economic and social mechanisms - not on origin)

    Nor does it have much to do with a third current on the left of sustainability and environmentalism that emphasizes that we are all in one big spaceship - and if the blacks or the women cannot live in peace with the whites or the men - in one way or another - then the game of thrones on the deck of the Titanic will lose its importance anyway when it sinks . None of this is yet related to IPCC reports and many scientific studies by groups of climate researchers and other researchers - hundreds of thousands of studies - that deal with climate issues and its consequences. Believing that everyone is liberal or corrupt and therefore supports the theory of matzah from the finger is about the same as believing that Jews bake matzah with the blood of Christian children. A belief that managed to exist and perhaps still exists for 1000 years.

    If you look carefully, you see that the liberals actually do not use the topic of global warming for almost anything. They rarely talk about it, it conflicts with economic liberalism and with other currents in liberalism, and it doesn't bring voters to the polls. The last politician who tried to talk extensively about climate change was Al Gore and it didn't quite work out for him. Most others drop some argument here and there.

    The denial of climate change has succeeded in an excellent way as the denial of the harms of smoking has succeeded in the past (and is still doing quite well - the fact is that cigarettes are still sold to children even though it is against the law and even though officially all parties oppose the sale of cigarettes to children).

  2. Eating meat is also the denial of science. In fact, everything that does not fit the social political agenda of the "beauty of the soul" is nothing less than the denial of science that originates in ignorance.

  3. To the same extent that science is running forward, the forces that bring us back to the Middle Ages are increasing.
    We couldn't pull them with us and so they pull us with them. Not bad in the ignorance that comes from a lack of education but
    Human desire to know less than can be known.

  4. The reason why climate science is opposed is that it is a political science, and not a science, like race theory or all kinds of Soviet scientific methods, it comes to tell us what is right to do, all under the guise of science and objectivity.

  5. Important article! But unfortunately, he will not have such an effect on each other unless they are willing to listen. Despite the heartbreaking speech of my friend Nostradamus - the denial of science today is a tool of the right. Anyone who believes that I am better than the others, that my religion is the just one, that everyone is rewarded according to what they deserve - cannot afford to listen to rationality.
    And rationality is the basis of science.

  6. The architect of identity politics is the left. He perpetuates division by dividing society into races, genders (more secondary), religions, parties.... Classic divide and conquer. And all in order to come to power because that is his only way plus encouraging immigration and welfare payments (bribes) to immigrants so that they will be elected and in a large socialist government and so like a ball of snow the situation and social stability are deteriorating

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