Last February I wrote an article that elicited more response than anything I have written for this publication. The piece originated when a reader challenged my acceptance of the climate change narrative. I worked past my initial impulse—which was condescending and dismissive—and studied the sources he provided. In the resulting article, I didn’t bash him or his sources; I tried to understand them.
I found much of the climate critique unconvincing. But a few arguments I could not dismiss outright. I wrote that I still believe in climate change but am less confident of the science, for reasons I stated. But climate was just a case study. My real point was that we not heed our initial impulses in relation to contentious issues.
The article drew heat from friends, people I respect, and others. I was called unhelpful, irresponsible and susceptible to “false prophets.”
The article was part experiment. First, I wanted to see if I could take seriously the purveyors of an argument I had never even deemed worthy of consideration. Second, I wanted to see how people would respond, especially those who care about climate.
Most (not all) seemed defensive. Most who wrote letters to the editor also seemingly missed the point of the article. Only one person addressed, very partially, the specific points of doubt I raised about climate science. No one really picked up on the point of how to deal with the very real divisions that exist on important issues in our churches.
Interestingly, the person whose email prompted this whole thing liked the article, even though I didn’t side with him.
What do I take from the responses? First, people care. That’s great. Second, people freely defend the climate change narrative. That was not always so. Third, many people don’t read carefully. Fourth, dealing with polarization is not a hot topic. Surprise.
Three people kindly suggested I consider the work of Katherine Hayhoe, a Canadian-born Christian who heads the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University and was named on TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014.
She pointed me to a study that says only seven percent of Americans are dismissive of climate change and actively oppose efforts to address it. Hayhoe does not devote her energies to this group because, she told me via email, “they will fabricate false and misleading information—such as the information that you have read—if they don’t like the real science.” Not quite my tack.
She also directed me to skepticalscience.com, which refutes climate skeptics. Unfortunately, it missed or obscured the key soft spots I identified in climate science, ignoring a fact that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admits: that the 114 climate models it draws on cannot explain the fact that warming has slowed down since 1998 (look it up).
The website did correct me on one point. I had scoffed at the claim that 97 percent of scientists agree on climate change. That claim is not accurate but apparently 97 percent of published, peer-reviewed papers that address the existence and cause of climate change say that it is happening and is human-caused.
Did my article lend credence to dangerous views, as some suggested? I thought hard about that, concluding that if the alternative is blinkered neglect of views I don’t like and the people who hold them, I will live dangerously. That is why I have written previously about the failings of specific First Nation governments, the quasi monopolization of “inclusion” by the LGBTQ movement, the value of understanding Trump supporters, and the fact that environmentalists are fossil fuel addicts, even though these points go against my general inclinations. (I could also write about the numerous ways in which Hayhoe’s comment that Texas has enough wind and solar energy potential to power the U.S. is misleading.)
Bottom line: we need real-world, complicated, adult discussions.
A Mennonite elder once told me to hold tightly to what I believe with one hand, and with the other to reach boldly beyond my comfort zone.
I believe in addressing climate change. I haven’t flown since 2002. I didn’t own a car until I was 39. The car I and my family now drive runs largely on used deep-fryer oil. We grow much of our food. We’re thrifty. My life is still littered with compromise and my ecological footprint is no better than half my fellow humans, but I care about climate.
I also care about people who don’t. I care about figuring out a way to be church together. What is ultimately more helpful: whopping people over the head with arguments, or listening?
I have many views that I share, but I also know that I have never regretted putting my knee-jerk reactions on hold long enough to understand someone with different views.
See Will’s first column on this subject: “Is climate change real?”