A Climate of Trust

By Published On: June 3, 20180 Comments on A Climate of Trust

 

How do we build trust?

Do you remember the mid-80s hit “A Matter of Trust” by Billy Joel ? You might have to be a Gen X’er like myself or older.

That song has been going through my mind when I think about the debate over climate change.

Why are so many people opposed to the conclusions that scientists have reached? No amount of scientific data seems to change some hearts and minds on this issue—even though it should. Sharing statistics, charts, data and reports doesn’t seem to budge the opposition. Most of us do not have advanced degrees in science but usually we do not need that to take what scientists do seriously.

Without spending any time at all listening deeply to what scientists say, many people just disregard their findings and say, “Nah, that can’t be possible.” On top of that, they want others to respect their opinion, as if their feeling—which they arrived at with no time or study whatsoever—is somehow equal to the evidence-based conclusions of people who have dedicated their wholes lives to deep study of the topic.

Yet, people trust scientists all the time: Whenever you fly in an airplane, use a computer to surf the internet, heat a frozen burrito in a microwave, trust a surgeon to perform open-heart surgery on you or check your app for upcoming weather predictions, you are showing a great deal of confidence in the work of scientists.

When meteorologists predict a Category 5 hurricane, people pack up their belongings and get outta town. Yet, when these same scientists use the same kinds models to predict climate change, many seem to think that there is enough uncertainty that they don’t have to do much of anything at all about it. Admittedly, there is a difference between forecasting next week’s weather and forecasting the next century’s climate, but there are also more similarities than most realize. We all know that meteorologists can be wrong. Hurricanes can change speed and direction. We saw that with Irma this past summer. That being said, anyone in a high risk area who is wise has packed their essentials and evacuated when a big storm has been predicted.

The hurricane may change direction here or there, but the overall fact that a very large storm was occurring and moving in a general direction was spot on. The same is true for climate change: A few details may change as it plays out, but the overall prediction is probably not going to change. So why aren’t people reacting the same way to climate change, which is by far more dangerous?

Yet, people who deny climate change act behaving like someone lounging around on the beach with flip-flops and a swimsuit with a Category 5 hurricane headed straight for them  Complete, total denial means not taking any precautions whatsoever.  All scientists know there is a margin of error, but so far what they have discovered is that the changing climate is far more significant than most early models predicts.

It’s a Matter of Trust

I have come to realize that the real issue with accepting the conclusions of scientists about climate really has nothing to do with science at all. It’s a matter of trust. Many people simply don’t trust scientists and therefore do not heed what they say. Scientists are just East or West Coast liberals, right? Many scientists have a reputation for being atheists (not all of them). They often have different political views. So when they come along and say that the earth is warming and that human are the primary cause, well, it’s hard to take this message seriously if you don’t trust the messenger. Most people do not have the time, skills or inclination to wade through a landslide of peer reviewed scientific papers to reach their own conclusions.

People do this all the time. Whenever a piece of evidence arrives that challenges a person’s worldview, the most common response is to simply disregard the new evidence. You would think the best response would be to adjust their worldview in light of new evidence! But that’s not what seems to happen. People ignore the new evidence or assume there must be some flaw in it.

When someone comes along who you don’t trust, then you probably assume that whatever numbers or charts they bear have simply been rigged at worst or are shortsighted at best to give faulty conclusions. It is easy to believe that the data is simply skewed or botched to serve a purpose.

I think a similar issue happens when people deny the evidence for human-caused climate change. It’s not as much that they don’t believe the message—the bigger issue is that they don’t trust the messenger. No amount of evidence is going to change their minds because the problem is not a lack of evidence—it is a lack of trust in the person sharing the evidence. Oil and gas companies have helped to take advantage of this lack of trust and intensify it with a denial campaign.

The climate change denial campaign has convinced folks to “follow the money.” They seem to think that the world’s scientists have some kind of financial interest in pushing for climate change. This baffles me. I’m still trying to figure out how virtually all of the world’s scientists—for decades and decades—in every country on earth—with no financial relationship to each other whatsoever—are in some kind of a grand conspiracy to make up the story about climate change to somehow… get a new tax plan with energy credits? It’s foolish.

It’s much more obvious to conclude that the oil and gas industry is purposefully promoting doubt because it stands to make a lot of profit if it can delay the world’s acceptance of climate change.  And guess what? There is actual evidence for this, as the oil and gas industry has been caught doing this very thing.

Psychologists call this projection:  Accusing the other side of doing the very thing you are doing.

You won’t find evidence of the world’s scientists in a massive conspiracy because it is simply not happening. But this isn’t about evidence—it’s a matter of trust.  So how do we build that trust? What is standing in the way? We trust scientists all the time about numerous things every minute of every day. You are using a computer or smart phone to read this because of the work of scientists in multiple fields. What makes climate change any different?

Visit Frank Lesko’s website here

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