Not happy vilifying skeptics, just wanting to trick them into our solution instead

It is never a good idea to call names to those who disagree, especially when this is the only (or even a large part) of the argument. It could as well backfire. This is well known by skeptics for a long time already, yet apparently some alarmist minds slowly coming to the same conclusion. But alarmist being alarmists, it rapidly starts to deteriorate from there.

This was no different in the article Overcoming Social Barriers To Climate Consensus from The Conversation. The authors are a lecturer of Monash University and a professor of University of Western Sydney, who published the paper Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities, published in Nature.

It started rather encouraging for skeptics:

It can be tempting to think that people who disagree with you are mad, bad or simply stupid. However, not only are such judgments usually wrong, but telling people that they are stupid is unlikely to convince them of the merit of your own view.

Except the last part of the last sentence, which already gives a glimpse of what’s to come. They want to convince those who disagree but, as we will see later in that article, not with arguments.

Only a paragraph later they present their starting point:

Despite there being a near consensus in the scientific community that the primary driver of climate change is anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, and that we need to cut those emissions if we’re to keep global warming to a minimum, the public remains divided on the issue.

They think that believers and skeptics don’t just have different views, but belong to social groups that are working to achieve opposed policy objectives. From this viewpoint they propose to “go beyond attempts to simply persuade, educate or improve the public understanding of science”. Their alarmist position keeps showing very clearly though:

Conflict between groups can also be diffused by shifting the focus from differences to focusing on similarities between the members of the two groups. And, more importantly, on broader goals that both groups share.

As this cartoon from USA Today shows, clean air, low power consumption, improved public transport, better waste management, efficient agriculture, reforestation and low cost renewable energy are all in the public interest whatever one’s position on climate change is.

So if you want to promote climate change action to people who don’t believe in climate change, then you need be mindful of the social dimension of people’s beliefs. That, and work to convince sceptics that that action is worth doing anyway.

What happened is rather obvious: they start from their assumption that they are right and the skeptics just have it wrong. Yet, in stead of coming up with arguments, they try to trick the non-believers into supporting their ultimate goal.

For the record, I am not against clean air, lower power consumption, improved public transport, better waste management, efficient agriculture, reforestation and low cost renewable energy. On the contrary. But the examples have nothing to do with the CO2 that the alarmists are so fixated on.

For example, I am all for clean air, but stabilizing CO2 levels, or even lowering it to for example 350 ppm, will not make any difference whatsoever to our health. There are real pollutants that people are not very keen of having in the air. Alarmists want to stabilize or even lower CO2 levels in the atmosphere, yet for skeptics clean air means free of toxic/dangerous substances. Both parties are not even speaking the same language.

So I am not really sure if I want to trust such proposition. I have no problem with them trying to interact with those who don’t agree. What worries me is their fixation on CO2 levels that will come back in their proposes actions. And that is the problem: skeptics don’t necessarily belief that CO2 has a catastrophic effect on our climate. Skeptics don’t deny the “science” as alarmists think, but they reject the conclusions of climate scientists when studying a inherent chaotic, complex system via noisy data. Which should give way to a large uncertainty. An uncertainty not acknowledged by the alarmists.

But even more, this attitude has also the potential to fail. It is not a constructive dialogue, it is patronizing. It is made from the assumption that the alarmists are right, the skeptics are wrong and therefor it is okay to trick them into the action the alarmists want. It isn’t as bad as calling skeptics deniers, but isn’t far off either.


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