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We have ways to make you think

19 Jun 2019 | OP ED Watch

Yet another professor of communication has a plan for curing denialisticism. “Warming oceans. Shrinking ice sheets. Intense rainfall events. Rising sea levels. These indicators provide compelling scientific evidence that climate change is happening. But for some, skepticism has crept in, and science doesn't hold the same authority as it once did. Emma Frances Bloomfield, an assistant professor of communication studies at UNLV, wants to know why.” Allow us to explain: The stuff you cite either isn’t happening, or has been happening since long before significant human emissions of GHGs. Alas, we have no novel social science technique for manipulating you into seeing it our way. We’re stuck citing facts.

It's curious that climate skeptics routinely find their credentials challenged, including Will Happer being dismissed in the Washington Post as “not formally trained as a climate scientist” despite being a very distinguished atmospheric physicist. But let a professor of communications, or the Pope, sound off on climate science and people nod and say yeah, you tell ‘em. (The journalists dismissing Happer had degrees in English, politics and public policy including Latin American studies and nobody seemed to mind.)

The story about the new way to cure denial was rather odd in that this professor, whose plan focused on religious people, sorted deniers into three categories the first of which was people who accepted climate change. No, really: the piece in loose Q&A format says “What are the three categories of climate change denial that you created?/ The first category we look at are the harmonizers. Harmonizers are a group that we would consider to be environmentalists. They believe that climate change is happening, they think it's important, and they marry their environmental beliefs with their faith and their faith tenets.”

The other two categories were “separators” and “bargainers”. And “separators see religion and the environment as oppositional, as enemies” while “Bargainers are also very strong, adamant deniers of climate change, but they see religion and the environment as more of a negotiated relationship. They take some bits of science and marry it with their faith, but then they ignore the parts of science that don't support their viewpoint. They would likely say that rising carbon dioxide levels are really great because that helps plant life grow. It's true -- carbon dioxide does improve plant life -- but only to a certain level, which we've far exceeded.”

At this point we tumble into whatever category means those who dislike statements that are factually absurd. There is no evidence that atmospheric CO2 has “far exceeded” the level at which it improves plant life. Not only has NASA found a dramatic greening of the Earth in the past third of a century that shows no signs of tapering off, but we know that our planet was lush and verdant in the Mezosoic with CO2 levels five times those of today or more.

Let us not carp. The article turns somewhat touchy-feely, saying apparently you lead separators back to the light by asking questions, a strategy Socrates could only envy. Whereas “For the bargainers, my primary strategy is to isolate concrete examples of why environmentalism is good, based on what their frame of reference is.” But it does contain some advice we wish everyone would take. “I think it's a problem when environmentalists or climate scientists are dismissive, or potentially patronizing to climate skeptics.”

Thanks. Because we hate it when people treat us as the subject of a social science experiment instead of as rational adults.

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