25 September 2011

Cognitive Dissonance, Diffidence, and Dissidence

Last week on this blog, I called a local climate change denialist a selfish %$#@!. I think the "selfish" epithet is clear enough: an old geezer who refuses to make any dents in his greenhouse gas emissions to benefit the children and all future generations is just plain selfish.

But two friends thought that I was somehow being hypocritical by using the term "bastard." Now, I'd assumed that most of us know, understand and use the second (slang) definition of the word: a vicious, despicable, or thoroughly disliked person.

So I see no hypocrisy, nor any problem, in calling a spade a spade ... especially these days, when so much is riding (future of life on Earth, anyone?) on the compassion we must muster for those more vulnerable to the ravages of the climate change emergency. In my world, to flatly refuse to make even the slightest sacrifice for the sake of the children — and then to splatter that mean-spiritedness all over a newspaper page — makes you a %$#@!. And a selfish one.


My friends' reactions got me thinking about cognitive dissonance: the state of conflict or anxiety that arises from inconsistency between one's beliefs/attitudes and actions, or from holding conflicting ideas at the same time.

For example, these friends know that the world is teetering on the edge of demise. Yet, they couldn't picture themselves calling a selfish %$#@! "a selfish %$#@!" on a blog. "What if a child reads it?" asked one. Um, that matters why? Changes things how? (Hey, if a child reads my blog, he or she is going to know that at least I stick up for the children and their right to a future!)

Anyway, that made me think of a new term. Cognitive diffidence: mental shyness or inability to trust; lack of intellectual self-confidence. Sure, if you hadn't spent a whole day researching and rebutting the denialist's published bullsh!t, you might not feel you have enough evidence to call someone a selfish %$#@!. But I did spend a whole day, so I do have enough evidence!

Then I remembered another friend's recent typo: cognitive dissidence. Pretty good one, eh? I'm coining that phrase as intellectual dissent, or mental protest against official policy. Yeah, that's what I'd like to see! A whole lot more people mentally protesting against national, international and multinational policies that are keeping us on the road to hell. And then, in order to get rid of their cognitive dissonance, people will have to DO SOMETHING about what's going on in the world. With courage instead of cognitive diffidence.

Think about it, 'kay? I might be onto something here!!

16 September 2011

In Response to a Global Warming Denialist's Drivel, Untruths and Outright Fabrications in My Local Paper

You know, the most labour-intensive part of responding to denialists is that they can say (and seem to get away with saying) whatever they want with impunity (using, by the way, hollow aphorisms repeated ad nauseum in the internet's echo chamber by other denialists who refuse to see what's happening around the world or just don't give a damn about others).

But the scientists and others who are trying to explain the science always feel they have to make sure that every single tiny little weeny detail is backed up with references — or the likes of the mean-spirited old codger I'm responding to here will jump on it, using more flippant nonsense gleaned from denialist blogs and websites.

Here, then, is my detailed response, even though I would rather have spent my time on doing what's right for the children of all species. (But then, maybe this constant recorrecting is what's called for to ensure them a climate-safe future….)

1. Some warm periods in the last 12,000 years were warmer than today?

It is now generally accepted by paleoclimatologists and other scientists that the Medieval Warm Period (or Medieval Climate Anomaly), from 950 to 1250 A.D., saw some regions slightly warmer than today's warmed world, but it was not a global phenomenon like today's global warming is. For more info, see the composite graph below and http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1579/0044-7447-29.1.51.

2. An ice age in the planet's near future? No, sir. Not if we continue adding heat-radiating greenhouse gases to the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate. According to the laws of physics, that is.

3. We're far past the days of scientific consensus on whether man-made CO2 is actually responsible? Actually, the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) came about as the weight of more and more evidence showed that humans are causing current warming with their increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. For more info, see http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.htm. ("There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Not one.")

4. "Global warming" has given way to "climate change"? And the insinuation is ...? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up in 1988. Perhaps you were trying to say that warming the atmosphere leads to changes in climate, which is correct.

5. Average temperature appears to have slightly declined over the past decade? No, the temperature trend is still upwards (with 2005 and 2010 tied as the hottest years on record). For more info, see the NASA graph (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) below, or http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110112_globalstats.html.

6. Prompting scientists to "hide the decline"? Talk about something taken out of context! One email, written by one climate scientist, has been skewed so many different ways, it's farcical. He was talking about an anomalous decline in northern tree ring growth starting about 1960, not global temperature. For a better explanation, see http://www.skepticalscience.com/Mikes-Nature-trick-hide-the-decline.htm.

7. I always like to hand it to denialists when they've got something right. Computer projections aren't always correct (when compared to observations). Unfortunately, for the most part they have failed to predict how quickly the warming and other disturbing trends are actually happening. However, "surface temperature observations are well within the range of model projections," "the observed rate of sea level rise is at the upper limit of the IPCC's projected range," and "the end-of-summer extent of Arctic sea ice is plummeting far more rapidly than … IPCC models predicted." For more info, see: http://www.skepticalscience.com/christy-crock-4-observations-match-models.html.

But to say that "every computer prediction of global warming from warming enthusiasts shows smooth upward curves in temperature, not declines, or fluctuations" is sheer fabrication. (See NASA graph in #5 above, for example.)

8. As greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have increased (we're over 390 parts per million of CO2 right now, and we started at 290 in the pre-industrial era), global average temperature has increased. So to ask "Why then, if CO2 has continued to rise, has our temperature not followed suit like it's supposed to?" is disingenuous at best, because temperature has followed suit.

9. "Could it be that computer models are deficient in raw data input?" Climatologists actually study and know about "the myriad of factors that affect this world's climate." Really, they do! But no, they probably can't include every single one in every single climate projection model. But, for example, they now know that temperature increase over the last three decades cannot be attributed to solar activity. For more info, visit http://www.skepticalscience.com/solar-activity-sunspots-global-warming.htm or watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Sf_UIQYc20&feature=player_embedded.

10. The writer stopped being puzzled long ago about "why weathermen can't even successfully predict next week's local weather accurately." That's nice. But he also — as denialists often do — seems to be confusing weather (day to day changes) with climate (which is all about long-term trends).

11. "Over the past few years governments have bowed to the political pressure of environmentalists concerned over greenhouse gasses and they've passed new regulations and taxes aimed at reducing CO2 emissions." Yes, and thank goodness for that! Tragically, not nearly enough of this has happened. It's been suggested that a $300 per ton tax on carbon would help turn the economic momentum around almost overnight, heading us toward a safer, cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more peaceful zero-carbon economy. But who's fighting that? Yup, the denialists.

12. "However, when it comes to the facts of proposals for those reductions including Kyoto, Copenhagen, and others, the political/environmental machinations regarding CO2 are shown to be nothing more than a surrealistic smoke and mirrors show." Ah, speaking of dense fog. The surrealism actually lies in the miniscule response of governments to the greatest threat ever to face the existence of the human species. It creates cognitive dissonance for people ("I hear it's an emergency, but I see my leaders doing nothing about it"), which in turn leads to even less political will to do the right thing for our children.

13. "I want to make it clear, I am opposed to pollution." That's nice. But the writer then goes on to say "However, CO2 is not a pollutant…. Without it, plants would die and stop producing the oxygen you and I so appreciate…." Why can people who appear concerned about pollution not understand that if you trap enough CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the result will be deleterious? Just like the impacts of pollution. No one wants to take all the CO2 away! We just want to get the emission and concentration of it down to levels that won't lead to global warming and climate disruption. (Am I allowed to say "Duh!" yet?)

14. I'm going to ignore his nasty rhetoric about China and India. Yes, they're developing. And if we'd kept the promise we made when we signed onto the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change back in 1992, they would all be developing in zero-carbon — or at least carbon neutral — ways. So to blame them now is really mean. (Enjoy your daily shower while you can, sir. Water will soon enough become so valuable, you won't have that luxury.)

15. And what's with throwing in a complete red herring critique of the UN's Agenda 21? Because the world is urbanizing (over half of us now live in cities, and the percentage is growing all the time), Agenda 21 suggested "sustainable urbanization," NOT a "protocol for the urbanization of the planet." Sheesh, dude. You sure are grasping at straws!

16. Then he accuses people who understand the climate change emergency of "manipulated, exaggerated, fear mongering, child scaring, doomsday scenarios." Let me take each of these in turn:

Manipulate – This is what denialists do to data that shows global warming due to increased CO2 emissions actually exists; it's called "cherry-picking" and we know they do it because they keep accusing the "other side" of doing it. (This is a psychological defence mechanism called projection, which involves taking one's own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people.)

Exaggerate – The sad part of this accusation is that we're NOT exaggerating! Overheating the oceans and the atmosphere really could devastate the habitability of this planet!

Fear mongering – People call us alarmists, but you're not an alarmist if you're raising the alarm about something that's alarming! We're not creating needless worry or panic — though we wish we were! (Do you see worry or panic anywhere?) Fear mongering is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. But we're not using fear, we're telling people the impacts of continuing to burn fossil fuels — and those impacts are scary.

Child scaring – This is a low blow, designed to turn people against anyone who actually cares about children and their future! I never talk to anyone younger than 12 (or a mature 11 year old) about climate change (and most of them don't care anyway, just like their parents). If younger children ask me, I lie and tell them there are lots of adults looking after the problem for them. I hate having to lie. And, frankly, I hate people who are quite blithely blighting the children's future by living their own lives with no sense of responsibility toward the future.

Doomsday scenarios – My gosh, but were it not so! But if the shoe fits the scenario .... The end of life on the planet is, well, pretty doomy and gloomy. A diagnosis of cancer is doomy and gloomy, too, but doctors have to tell their patients the truth nonetheless.

17. And now the writer shows both his true colours (one of his compatriots once told me that Canadians would rather die comfortable than live uncomfortable) and his lack of understanding and imagination for solutions to the climate crisis. "Until then [until someone can show him how changing our EuroAmerican lifestyles will actually make a significant difference*], I plan to continue showering in the mornings, keep driving to work in my gas dependent automobile, buy food from here, there and everywhere, fight carbon taxation, and keep wondering how we're all going to stay warm, without carbon, when winter inevitably comes."

* And I suppose he's never heard of solar power, passive solar, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal (for all those showers he thinks he needs), wind power, tidal power, wave power, geothermal energy? Nope, guess not. All he can picture doing is what he's always done: burn, burn, burn.

I know, I know, this is a blog about compassionate climate action. But my patience and my compassion wear very thin with people like this. *

* I have censored my own anger. Apparently people who would condemn the children to a future of deadly climate instability for the sake of their comforts today can't handle being called a selfish $#%@!. Hmmm, let's check this on the scales of justice: destroying life — being called a name, destroying life — being called a name. I rest my case.

10 September 2011

Am I a Teacher or a Human Being First?

I'm still "smarting" from a run-in with my professional union this week, one that broke my heart.

According to our new job action (precursor to a strike), teachers in my province are not participating in a whole host of activities, such as staff meetings, meetings with parents outside of instructional time, and fundraising — which I assumed meant raising money for school supplies that our government funding should pay for.

So I went ahead and planned our annual harvest luncheon as a soup potluck and invited students to bring pennies from home for famine relief in East Africa. "Soup for Somalia" we were calling it. I even contacted my union to make sure this was okay, and the rep told me my students and their parents could collect the money.

But my colleagues decided that this was "sidestepping the spirit of the current teaching strike initiative." One told me, "Although I agree that fundraising for Somalia is important, I also believe that it is not appropriate at this time. I would fully support a fundraiser after our job action." Another suggested that "using the school as the vehicle [for this fundraising] ... is problematic." This colleague thought that my unilateral organizing of this event (which I did last year, too, and no one complained) "does us a disservice at this time. What is the rush?"

Well, I put in a call to Somalia, and they said they can't postpone their famine til after we've settled our contract. But, like a coward (and I'm ashamed of my cowardice, especially after last week's entreaty to teachers to be courageous and compassionate), I cancelled the event — we're putting on a community soup dinner and benefit concert that evening instead.

Meantime, if you live here in Canada, anything you donate by September 16th will be matched by our federal government. (Visit the Humanitarian Coalition, or a similar group in your country.)

I know, I know, "donor fatigue" and "we've seen it all before." Here in my community, there's a huge benefit tomorrow for a young boy with cancer. And an all-out search elsewhere in my province for a child who's been abducted.

But Somalis and Ethiopians and Kenyans love their children, too. And so many of the factors leading to this drought, well, our lifestyles are implicated. Please, give what you can. And shame on teachers who think that helping our students become more compassionate is ever the wrong thing to do.

03 September 2011

Here's to a Courageous and Compassionate New School Year

In my part of the world, students and teachers are heading back to school. Here's my wish for the new school year:

May all the educators — at all levels, everywhere — find the courage and compassion they need in order to teach what their students most need to learn, whether that is how to connect with the rest of Nature (for the young ones), how life works on this planet (ecological principles), what the state of their planet (and hence, their future) is, or how to move into the world of work and adulthood and citizenship as practitioners of sustainable (or better yet, survivable) development principles.

But we teachers also have to be brave enough to say NO! to irrelevant parts of the curriculum or syllabus and YES! to teaching what our students need for creating the best possible future for themselves: food growing skills, water collecting skills, energy generating skills. No matter what else you teach, you can teach with the Earth and the future and the children of all species in mind.

As I was writing an article for the 2009 issue of the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (Transformative Environmental Education: Stepping Outside the Curriculum Box - pdf), I originally penned "Teachers are a timorous lot," timorous being the gentlest word I found amongst the 44 synonyms* for "wussy" I uncovered. (I was afraid "wussy" would be too offensive, thereby proving my own point.)

Teachers do not go into teaching to become heroes. We do not suffer from Fireman Syndrome. But heroes we must become! The lives of all our students are at risk, and we can and should and must be doing something about it. (I do a professional development workshop or webinar for teachers entitled Greening Education with Courage and Compassion.)

We in the education field consider our time very precious, but how precious is it compared to the lives, the future, of our students? (Not to mention the lives of tens of thousands of children lost to the famine in East Africa.) If we don't understand the climate change emergency, the crisis of biodiversity loss, the importance of protecting forests, the urgency of moving to a zero-carbon economy, then we must take the time to learn!

To my colleagues, a reminder that we teach best what we most need to learn. Please, consider how you can help safeguard the future for the children of all species through your teaching, and summon your courage and compassion to help you do the right thing. Visit GreenHeart Education for ideas and enCOURAGEment.

Have a wonderful new year at school ... but keep in mind and hold in your hearts all the kids who don't have (or won't have) enough to eat or drink due to droughts and floods and storms and heatwaves, let alone a school to go to.

p.s. Despite job action in my jurisdiction, I am organizing a Soup for Somalia school garden harvest luncheon for my school. Please try to find some way to help the youngsters in your school or community connect to and help out
their peers in the Horn of Africa.

* Actually, it was only 43 synonyms; turns out I had "namby pamby" twice! Here's the rest of the list of synonyms for "wussy," in case you're interested:

  1. timorous
  2. faint-hearted
  3. fearful
  4. doormat
  5. weakling
  6. insipid
  7. softie
  8. crybaby
  9. irresolute
  10. wishy washy
  11. sissy
  12. wimp
  13. timid
  14. afraid
  15. unassertive
  16. feeble
  17. weak
  18. ineffectual
  19. cowardly
  20. weak-willed
  21. jejune (I'm pushing it with this one)
  22. suck
  23. banal
  24. prosaic
  25. tame
  26. anemic
  27. vapid
  28. lacking zest
  29. flavourless
  30. dull
  31. boring
  32. bland
  33. diffident
  34. doubtful
  35. insecure
  36. reticent
  37. trepid
  38. nervous
  39. tense
  40. apprehensive
  41. jittery
  42. collywobbly