I got a call the other day from some producers I very much admire. They wanted to talk about a series next year on global warming and I thought, why does this subject make me instantly tired? Global warming is important, yes; controversial, certainly; complicated (OK by me); but somehow, even broaching this subject makes me feel like someone's put heavy stones in my head. Why is that?As an anthropologist, I think this is a very good starting point. To bring some new aspects into the either worn out or else highly specialized (and thus mostly exclusive) global warming debate , Kwulrich suggests to have a look at the emotional side of the debate. He ends up in realizing that it's not the arguments, but the negativity of skeptics that bothers him:
When they write in to NPR, they cite study after study; a recent paper by Dan Kahan and colleagues at Yale Law School found the more scientifically literate and numerate you are, the less likely you are to see climate change as a serious threat. So this isn't about a lack of science knowledge or that there aren't scientific questions to wonder about. It's not that the skeptics don't have an argument, it's how they argue. It's the anger. That's what puzzles me.To find out more about what he identifies as a negative vibe, he quotes from another blog, run by Ursula Goodenough, a biology professor from St. Louis. She asked her readers: "If you are a global warming skeptic, what makes you so angry?", or, "What motivates a denier?" She tried to systematize the answers and delivers what is, in my opinion, quite an interesting categorization (see blow). In the last part of the article, the famous novelist Jonathan Frantzen is quoted, who fell in love with birds (and then became an environmentalist).
What motivates the skeptic's anger? First of all, there is distrust in the alarmist scientists' credibility, expressed here by an exemplary comment:
For thirty years I was told the world was going to end and it didn't. All these scary predictions were based on computer models not actual data and they never came true. And the solution always seemed to involve some bicycle riding elitist regulating my life and taking my money. You guys blew it.Ursula Goodenough received 859 answers. Here her summary:
[INERTIA]:The default setting of the American people is inertia. We tend not to favor things that require a change in our habits, let alone gluttonous creature comforts.Of course, to have this categorization standing alone is very dangerous. At least, skepticism is based on scientific, rational arguments, too, as mentioned above. But we should accept this for a moment, because we talk about the emotional side. So let's follow Kwulrich's story:
[NOW-ness ]: There was a 10-minute lecture by Dr. Gilbert of Harvard that explains this pretty well. He states that humans have evolved to react quickly to events that are Intentional, Immoral, Imminent, and Instantaneous. Global warming has none of these properties, whereas Terrorism has all of them. Hence we fear Terrorism but not Global Warming.
[ME-ness]: It's something called "inferred justification." ... Essentially people approach things with pre-determined beliefs and then seek out facts to validate their own views and ignore facts that don't support their views. ... This is why the respondents respond with tons of links. They don't care what the facts are, they just want their belief system validated.
[I HATE THAT GUY]: There's no one motivator, I don't think. For some it's politics — "If the liberals/hippies/Democrats are saying it's true, I must assert that it's false!" — and for others, in America at least, I suspect it's related to our deep (and deeply annoying) cultural bias against the very idea of expertise.
[WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?]: For my dad it was not accepting the idea that human beings, when faced with cataclysmic change, would be harmed by that change instead of adapting to it.
[I SMELL A PLOT ... ]: Many deniers I speak with really believe climate change is a conspiracy among Eurocrats and America Haters worldwide to "bring us down to their level."
In the (happy) end, Jonathan Frantzen tells why he first turned into a moderate skeptic (or simply being bored by the question of global warming), and how it came that he suddenly decided to become an environmentalist:
I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about the environment. There was nothing meaningful that I personally could do to save the planet, and I wanted to get on with devoting myself to the things I loved. I still tried to keep my carbon footprint small, but that was as far as I could go. . .. BUT then a funny thing happened to me. It's a long story, but basically I fell in love with birds. Whenever I looked at a bird, any bird, even a pigeon or a robin, I could feel my heart overflow with love. ...And now, not merely liking nature but loving a specific and vital part of it, I had no choice but to start worrying about the environment again. ... Now those threatened forests and wetlands and oceans weren't just pretty scenes for me to enjoy. They were the home of animals I loved.And falling in love with birds, roses and other living things, anger disappears:
Which is what love will do to a person. Because the fundamental fact about all of us is that we're alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.For some, there might be an unnerving tone of moral superiority in this arguments, as if only environmentalists would know what love means. But this is not the point, I guess. It's the anger.
When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there's a very real danger that you might love some of them.
And who knows what might happen to you then?