Monday, December 03, 2007

A Lesson From An Encounter With Global Warming Deniers

Sitting in the Richmond, Virginia Airport one morning last week, my conversation with a couple of southern gentlemen turned to rising oil and gas prices and the increasingly precarious global energy situation. The conversation began innocently enough. We all agreed about how important it is that America gain freedom from foreign oil and move to a renewable energy-powered economy as quickly as possible.

I was taken a bit back, however, at their resistance when I casually added the additional benefit that a rapid transition to renewables would provide much-needed solutions to the accelerating problem that is global warming. Both southern gentlemen – a skinny red-headed professional in his 30’s and an executive type in his early 50’s – became visibly agitated at the mere mention of global warming. They put forth many of the typical Limbaughesque points to support their view that global warming doesn't exist, including:
  • The jury is still out about how bad it’s going to be, so we can’t spend too much on the problem;
  • Climate change is just part of a natural cycle;
  • Volcanoes put more CO2 into the atmosphere than humans; and
  • It’s all just related to ocean cycles.
Even when I argued that the jury is far from out -- and pointed to the vast scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, as declared by the world’s top national academies of sciences -- they just shrugged this powerful pillar of credibility off. How? They (very) strongly believed that scientists (even prestigious National Academies) can’t be believed because their claims just reflect a political agenda.

Now I know there are plenty of Americans out there who share these beliefs, even in the highest levels of the U.S. government (embarrassingly enough). But that doesn't mean I still wasn't dumbstruck by the notion that for these two well-to-do men, it will take a flood from a melting glacier engulfing their Hummers before they are able to accept that global warming is a real threat to our environment, economy, and quality of life alike.

The Good News

There was a bright side to the story: these gentlemen were, both fortunately and interestingly, pro energy independence and pro renewable energy. They were also very anti our continued reliance on foreign oil, which they believed helps fuel the terrorists.

The So What
This conversation provided yet another indication that if many solutions to climate change and peak oil are one and the same (a rapid transition to clean renewable sources of energy), then to gain the broad societal support needed to solve both problems, we're a lot better off focusing on the goal of achieving energy independence than on the goal of solving global warming. To the conservative segments of society that these two gentlemen represented, communicating the importance of a transition to a renewable energy-based economy based on its potential to solving global warming flunked horribly. Many folks like this simply don't and won't believe global warming is a real problem that needs to be solved. So why force the matter with them when the patriotic, economic and security appeal for a transition to a renewable energy-based economy worked beautifully? They were all for it!

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