Why climate realists and skeptics talk past each other

Grist logo At Grist, Jonathan Hiskes compares the opposing ways that climate skeptics and advocates see climate change. He explains that skeptics view climate change in a similar frame as religion, and that they have to accept it as entirely true or entirely false. At the same time, climate realists are able to see the growing evidence supporting human-caused climate change as conclusive, despite the issues complexities and the occasional false model.

Posted Apr. 2, 2010
By Jonathan Hiskes, Grist

Truth be told, I’m more interested in people
who are overcoming barriers
to progress than in the endless “does
global warming exist?” debates. When your house is on fire, at some
point you stop arguing with someone who says there’s no fire, and you
focus on getting your family out. Or if the house is an inescapable
planet, you get to work dousing the fire.

But … there’s this awesome metaphor in The
that’s useful for understanding how climate realists
and skeptics talk past each other. It goes like this: If you view
climate science as a jigsaw puzzle, the full picture becomes clear once
you’ve got most pieces in place. A loose piece here and there doesn’t
obscure the whole picture. If it’s a kitten in a laundry basket you’re
looking at, you can be sure it’s a kitten in a laundry basket with only
90 percent of the pieces in place.

On the other hand, if you view climate science as a house of cards,
with each piece dependent on another piece, one loose card can topple
the whole apparatus. (The chain is only as strong as its weakest link,
to add yet another metaphor.) So the improper emails at the heart of the
uproar or one incorrect report on Himalayan glaciers can seem like a
fatal blow, even though the body of scientific work confirming climate
change vastly outweighs them.

I find this illuminating. Understanding the difference between jigsaw
people and house-of-cards people doesn’t resolve their disagreements.
But it’s useful to see how they’re working off different metaphors. And The
’s thorough overview
of climate science makes a strong case for why the jigsaw metaphor is
the more appropriate one.

Bonus point: One reason why some people adopt the
house-of-cards view is that they transfer the metaphor from
fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalism requires that every single tenet
of a holy scripture be true. If not, the whole apparatus topples. Hence
the Biblical inerrancy view—the Bible is true not just as a whole,
but in every single historical and scientific detail.

Most Christians I know don’t have this literalist view of the Bible.
And I’ll leave it to theologians to explain whether this view of
scripture makes sense. But if your faith rides on such a belief, you’re
likely to look at climate change in the same way.

Hat tip to Clark
for spotting this.

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