In the beginning of October 2008, I was just a simple green person, minding his own business, voting for the Flemish green party since my early twenties, believing that there was an agreement between scientists that global warming is bad, that we are responsible and that we should do something about it. That seemed perfectly logical back then. Although I also had the impression that the scientists were exaggerating their case, I was convinced that they were basically right.
The issue of global warming surely interested me, but other things in life had priority and I never had a closer look at it. I felt strengthened by the fact that the scientists claimed that they had it all figured out. Heck, I was at the “right” side of the debate and that was a very comfortable position to be in. There was nothing left for me to do, just to trust.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2009 and I suddenly found myself deeply in the skeptical camp…
That is at the, gulp, “wrong” side of the debate.
How on Earth did someone like me get over there?
As I explained already at the start of this blog in 2013, the incentive for my search was very banal. Some claim didn’t add up and I wanted to make sense of it. It was my curiosity that persuaded me to look into the matter, but that was by no means the thing that pulled me over.
In the beginning, my curiosity was rather limited. I only accepted answers from the “right” side of the debate and automatically ignored arguments from what I then considered the “wrong” side. That is not hard to understand. I heard from those on the “right” side of the debate, that the skeptics/contrarians/deniers were plain wrong. No wonder that I ignored the lost spirits from the “wrong” side. It was only after my belief system was challenged that I took the arguments of the skeptical side into consideration.
A crucial turning point was when I suddenly was confronted with how temperatures were measured in reality. I noticed that there were issues with the quality control of the base measurements which are taken to calculate the average temperature of the Earth. This was incompatible with the certitude in my belief system that we could accurately calculate the average global temperature. If there were issues with the quality control at the very basis, then this would undoubtedly have an impact in the later stages of the calculation and I needed to reconsider the belief that these records were reliable.
This is not exactly a decisive argument, but at that time it just gave me a temporary openness to listen to what I then considered the “wrong” side of the debate. To my surprise, what they actually said was different from what I was told they say! What they said was much more nuanced and it also seemed rooted in reality. This nuance was (still is) not reported by the media.
I was also surprised how many of those voices there were. Listening to the voices of the “right” side of the debate, I got the impression that the “wrong” side was just a fringe group, a vocal minority. That didn’t seem to be true either.
I then started to realize that I never heard the actual arguments of the skeptical side before… This is not really surprising. Skeptic voices aren’t invited to tell their story in the media. Their arguments are in fact brought by those on the “right” side of the debate and then subsequently debunked. The “skeptical” arguments that were presented in the media came not from the skeptics themselves. So, or the “right” side of the debate had no clue what the arguments of the “wrong” side were or the presented arguments were strawman arguments that were not meant to inform, but just to be easily dismissed.
From then on, a new world opened. The stories from the “right” side were in fact only half of the story. I was so fascinated looking into that other half that I kept studying it and it culminated in the creation of this blog about four years later.
Personally, I don’t think that I changed that much. I am still the same person, green of heart. There are however two things that definitely changed. The first one is trust. In my believer’s years, I trusted the scientists almost unconditionally. I trusted that they were as sure as they claimed. That the evidence was clear and with absolute certainty.
I still trust, yet not unconditionally. I still want to trust yet also to verify things (hey, that sounds familiar). Now I do check things if a claim seems doubtful/outlandish/wrong. That way I can see for myself who I will give my trust to. Trust is something that has to be earned, not given by default.
The second one is realism. In my years as a believer, I focused on what “could be” or “should be”. Which can be really frustrating, especially in a situation where the support of everybody (or at least a vast majority) is required (but in practice not there). Currently, I am more focused on what “is” there, what is actually investigated, what is actually observed, what is actually known. It got my two feet firmly on the ground, not my head somewhere high in the clouds.
Then I come to the key point: “Who am I to say?”, but that is for a next post.
The same happened to me. The constant dinning had me convinced nuclear reactors were a dire menace. Then in 1977 the wastes problem turned out fake, I lost an argument with Jerry Pournelle, and Petr Beckmann’s safety comparisons showed that the obstruction/delaying of such plants created a health hazard. Fool me twice, shame on me!
It would seem the key to your change of mind was looking at the opposing arguments. As you found out the alarmist side discourage anyone from doing this – then misinterpret was the other side are saying.
For my own part, I never really believed in the global warming hype. That is partly due to having done an economics degree where you were forced to understand different sides of a debate, reading them in the original. Many of the exam questions started with “Compare and contrast….” so to succeed you needed to accurately understand different arguments. By looking at other arguments, you realize the limits of your own knowledge and understanding. This, I believe how a lot of academic disciplines in arts, humanities and sciences develop.
Trying to understand another point of view is important in wider society as well. As you know, in 2016 Britain voted to leave the EU. Since then Britain has become very divided politically. Most people cannot comprehend why those on the other side should hold their views. But then, like with those for climate change, the arguments are not clearly made by either side.