26 February 2012

I Finally Met One in Real Life!

I met a real-live climate change denialist the other day. I've had a few run-ins with them before, but through letters to the editor, never in person. It was quite the experience!

And I'll tell ya, he was a humdinger. Rude, arrogant, illogical, argumentative, and guilty of doing everything he was accusing me of doing. So, they really are like that! Wow. We're doomed.

I was presenting to a group of colleagues on a tangentially related educational topic. By way of introduction, I wanted to let the audience know that my deep understanding of the climate change crisis gives me a rather unique perspective on what and how we should be teaching in the new millennium. (I believe that learning soil building, food growing, water collecting and energy generating must be at the core of our new curriculum. Anything else we teach — without these skills — will become increasingly irrelevant and then moot. After all, how useful are reading and writing and math if we don't have enough to eat?) (I said it was a unique perspective, didn't I?)

I was only on my third slide. Who interrupts a speaker on her third slide? He just broke in and started insisting that my facts were all opinions and that his "facts" were all correct. (I'm not sure I'd even presented any "facts" by that point!) And that I was slandering climate change deniers (a term I hadn't even used; regular readers know that I don't use that term anymore because deniers, er, denialists say it hurts their feelings). The atmosphere is cooling. There's no melting in the Arctic. Etc. He spewed such old, old craptrap. Why can't the denialists come up with any cool new stuff to show their ignorance of the science and the evidence?

I'm not comfortable dealing with hecklers (this was not a polite contribution to the "discussion") and I know I got my hackles up, but others told me later that I handled it well. For their sake, I'm glad I gave that impression. But I still can't figure out what motivates someone like that to hold so tightly to the past. Why do some people need so vociferously to deny what's happening?

It upsets me a lot to think that people who should know better, who ask their students all the time to listen politely, to do research and to think critically, take only enough time to arm themselves with all the denialist party lines. Which, have you noticed, never seem to change. The rest of us are learning new things about global warming and climate change all the time because we're following the new research. These people keep reading the same old stuff all the time, and never seem to gain the necessary scientific understanding of the laws of physics and ecology at play here. (That's why there's considered a difference between skeptics and denialists. The former are open to considering new findings. The latter are not concerned with new findings at all.)

We have [...] arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

— Carl Sagan

On the way home, I found myself wondering what kind of teacher someone like that, someone who doesn't give a flying leap about their students' future, would be. Never mind. Based on his behaviour the other day, I suspect I know the answer to my question.

p.s. Someone has reminded me that since the climate change crisis is already killing people and will lead to a holocaust ("destruction or slaughter on a mass scale"), climate change deniers are, in effect, holocaust deniers and have no right to get upset when others use the term "denier" to describe them.

p.p.s. The Climate Reality Project demonstrates why it worries me so much that some educators refuse to take the time to learn the science of global warming:

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?