Seeing what you believe versus believing what you see

Some statements can keep on resonating in your head after you hear them. This happened when I saw a transcript of the opening Remarks by Joseph Bast at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9). The theme of the conference was “Don’t just wonder about global warming, understand it!” and this were the words that kept on resonating since I read them:

Alarmists see what they believe, while skeptics believe what they see.

If there is a sentence that would capture my changing process starting around 5 years ago, this would be a good contender.

Seeing what you believe

Life was incredibly simple when I was a believer. There were two pillars on which my belief was shrugged. The first one was the “consensus between scientists” that the science is settled and the debate is over. We were surely the cause of global warming. In a way that was comforting. It has already been evaluated by the “experts” and they said they were sure.

It is based on a really simple story: we produce CO2 as a byproduct of our activities (which is true), this increases the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (which is also true), CO2 as a greenhouse gas (it is) will have an effect on temperatures (not many doubt that). But this was not the complete picture. While all of the statements are basically true, it is only a small part of the big picture, but amplified as if it was the only thing that really matters.

A second pillar was the extreme polarization of the playing field. On the one side there where those who agreed with the consensus (whether scientist, journalist, politician,…) and they were portrayed as the noble white knights who just wanted to “save the earth”. While on the other side there were those who didn’t agree with the consensus who were portrayed as the dark knights, surrendering to the money of Big Oil and sabotaging the white knights in their strive to do the right thing. Heroes versus bad guys. That is the same stuff Hollywood movies are made of.

Being on the white knights’ side is favorable. No wonder why so many people who don’t do fact checks choose that side.

Believing what you see

My first steps towards skeptic attitude were almost incidental and even based on a misinterpretation. Yet it was the start I needed. At first I only took alarmist voices seriously, that was the style of thinking that I was used to, but gradually I took notice of the dissenting voices…and came to the realization that they were the ones that actually looked at the data and try to understand. While the alarmist side were not interested in this kind of stuff, were just playing with emotions and with mathematical models. Throwing out ever scarier doom scenarios in the media. Stifling debate by calling the consensus and ad hominems.

The more I was looking into it, the more inconsistencies I found. Inconsistencies that I couldn’t see before. How would I? I didn’t even did basic fact checks back then. That’s the price of just believing in a situation where communication is not based on reality.

But, you could say, I did change once from one side to the other. Isn’t it possible that I could change back? Well, true, I changed from warmer to skeptic and yes, there is always the possibility that I could switch back. This would be a very interesting situation though. I did the switch when looking at the facts. When I would switch back, that would also be because of the facts and then it would be interesting to see which facts I would have found that support the alarmist side. If the facts change, my position will also change. But at this point there is nothing that points in that direction.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s