Another Inconvenient Truth: Are We Too Divided to Close the Ideological Gap?

Some days my hope wavers that this polarized American society can get anywhere meaningful. The communication gap is so wide and prickly. That goes for environmental issues, political ones, cultural ones and any other kinds of ones. Sometimes it just seems hopeless to me. Or at least very fatiguing.

Consider my most recent sustainablog post — NASA Maps Global CO2 Patterns; Produces More Science for Nonbelievers to Dispute.

I showed some exasperation in that post, too. I wondered how science, a system based on factual discovery as means of proving (or disproving) a hypothesis, is so controversial as it relates to environmental matters. I wondered — and continue to wonder — how two people can look at facts of science and pick and choose what to believe and then vehemently disagree with each other.

An Inconvenient Truth

That is to say, for example, one person may consider the science presented by former Vice President Al Gore, a Nobel Prize winner (and Academy Award winner) for his efforts related to educating the world about global warming, and says, “We must alter our behaviors to keep climate change from reaching its full, destructive potential. We have a role in what is happening on the planet, and should make sure our actions are positive, or at least not unnecessarily negative.”

Another watches the same presentation, An Inconvenient Truth, and says, “What a crock. I don’t believe it. So I’m not going to recycle, or support a shift in energy policy or even accept any need for change as a possibility. I wish everyone would stop talking about it.”

It continues to perplex me that we’re so divided on such crucial issues, especially ones supported by facts, data, numbers, intelligent results.

In that NASA post, I started by putting forward a map that was recently published by one of the leading American governmental agencies for discovery and exploration. While I have some general reservations about trusting government or about taking information wholesale from sources of any kind, I do feel it’s reasonable, if not downright necessary, to release control of some things in this world.

For instance, I am not a doctor, a pilot, or a carpenter. I think it’s in my best interest to leave those areas of expertise to the professionals who’ve spent their lives working on those skills and knowledge sets.

So I trust that when science proves global warming is exacerbated by human activities, and that said scientific evidence even is accepted, finally, by the evangelical administration of President George W. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. And when that science receives global appreciation and acclaim for Al Gore, rather than overwhelming dissent followed by corrective theories, it is probably in my interest to act upon that information.

Now, that’s not the same as saying that I do so in utter blindness. But if I were to completely ignore the information, wouldn’t that be equally blind and equally ignorant? And that seems too often to be the case, as it pertains to the poles of divide.

Naysayers who comment against things written here at sustainablog seem to often do it with curiously strong confidence that global warming is a hoax and to believe otherwise must be a certain dagger through the heart of, say, my credibility as a blogger. They seem to figure that my believing is foolish, and I can’t understand why they choose to be so presumptious and equally foolish in ignoring issues.

What If?

Here is how I see this idea of global warming, and I think it’s a pretty logical basic approach: What if?

Now, I have posed that question before and a commenter had a decent enough response, essentially saying: It is not worth it to change whole global systems upon the mere what-if of the world heading toward destruction.

But when I pose the “What If” question, it really is a matter of attempting to get people, in a non-threatening way, to just think for themselves and draw on some logic. It’s not a baseless what-if meant to create a loophole for the lazy naysayer prone to loathe change and self-improvement. It’s an “At the least consider that the anticipated outcome is far too dire to allow apathy to have any role in our future” kind of what-if.

When Is Enough Enough?

So again I ask the naysayers who frequent this blog, and vent their frustration that people like me are so, what they seemingly consider to be, incorrigibly gullible and ignorant as to buy into a preserve-the-planet mentality:

  • At what point do we have enough science to actually respect it — and act?
  • At what point do we think the voluminous depth of facts we’ve accumulated are enough to use for measures of averting the what-if doomsday scenario?
  • At what point should we all care that if the world, particularly because of human activities, is in fact heading toward a very bad situation, we might want to have some foresight and proactively work to ease that unthinkable burden?

Nuance of Language

Now, with respect to one naysayer in particular who commented on my recent NASA post, spouting the usual refusal to buy into such foresight and planning because he’s annoyed by people like me using less-than-concrete words such as “might, maybe, could” to describe this end game…

I write here at sustainablog as a means of facilitating discussion about some very significant ideas and issues that we, as a whole society, inclusive of both ends of the ever-growing ideological divide, need to resolve.

The fact is that I am not a scientist, so I do not propagate the findings on global warming as if they were my own. I discuss them because they are ideas worth discussing. I step aside to allow the experts who have given their lives to the discovery of facts to do their work.

I appreciate scientists, pilots, carpenters, teachers, truck drivers, nurses, zookeepers, garbage men, chefs…and on and on… because that’s what specialization necessarily requires.

I only wish the rigid naysayers who are so faithful to status quo comfort and thinking would likewise step back and be so humble as to allow scientists to contribute what we cannot — and then dutifully get off their butts, step to the plate and participate for the good of everyone rather than wait and see if, on an off-chance, their cynicism prevails.


But I’ve come to the conclusion that won’t happen. We’re divided and I have lost faith that sense and compassion can accomplish much of anything, at least any time in the foreseeable future. Simply, people love to hate. It’s the way of the Internet, of politics, of business, of entertainment.

The American public doesn’t even see the same America, the same planet, the same problems. We so often don’t even talk to each other in reasonably intelligent, restrained ways right now. (Watch John McCain and Sarah Palin and their hate-rally-goers in action, if you don’t believe me.)

So how can we fix what’s wrong with all of it?

Like Senator Joe Biden said of Sarah Palin’s refusal to acknowledge man’s activities have anything to do with her melting state of Alaska: How can we fix a problem we can’t even agree exists?

  1. Cliff H

    If there is ideology, there will be a gap- that is inherent in the nature of ideology and the human mind.

    With ideology we enter into a right/wrong adversarial dichotomous thinking process.

    What seems to help is a different sort of talking–

    Richard Moore at escapingthematrix.org says it this way:

    “Harmonization is about a different kind of dialog, based on respectful listening, and aimed at developing solutions that take into account everyone’s concerns. This kind of dialog can be readily facilitated in any group of people, and it is an ancient human tradition, capable of transforming conflict into creative synergy. We the People are capable of working together wisely and harmoniously.”

    This works a lot better at a local level than at a global level.

  2. Justin Van Kleeck

    This is a thoughtful post, Adam. But I do not agree that the human tendency to interpret things–anything–differently is a problem…yes, even when it comes to the environment. Just as anyone can read a poem and get an entirely personal, unique meaning from it, so too can “raw data” be interpreted differently. Each person will bring his or her own perspective to the situation–including past training, knowledge, prejudices, etc.

    So while I wish everyone did agree on the basic issue of human-induced climate change, as well as that everyone would come together to work on ways to live more sustainably, I think it is also important that we remain open to differences of opinion and disagreement. As long as the discussion remains productive, not simply an argument and indulgence in hate mongering.

  3. Bobby B.

    Adam thanks for that well-written, passionate piece of opinion journalism. I do hope that you were not referring to me in your “annoyed by people like me” statement. I am not at all annoyed. I just have a strong difference of opinion about this supposed impending doom facing us all, and I too can cite science that supports my opinion.

    At last count over 31,000 degreed scientists had signed a petition that “flatly denies Al Gore’s claims that human-caused global warming is a settled scientific fact” (source: Newsmax – May 19, 2008). Included in that number were 9,021 Ph.D.’s. I believe the petition has more signatures today. Some of these “rogue” scientists have examined the work of the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) “approved” scientists and found faults with their results. For example, there are the “corrections” to the IPCC’s graph to erase a period of warming during the Middle Ages (source: London Telegraph – June 4, 2003) and to create the hockey stick on one end to “prove” that recent history accounts for the greatest period of warming in the history of the earth. Mann’s Hockey Stick has been disputed by researchers because it is the result of “poor mathematics” (source: MIT Technology Review – October 15, 2004). Even at NASA, two Ph.D.’s (Hansen and Spencer) are feuding about the interpretation of climate data (Source: World Net Daily – October 13, 2008). So, how can you or I make any claims that the issue is settled? At best, you and I can only discuss our opinions and interpretations, which are likely skewed by personal bias one way or another.

    Let’s continue probing what you call the “Ideological Gap”. Since the publishing of “Silent Spring” in 1962, the environmentalists have been able to push an agenda with only a minimal amount of resistance. Since the 1990’s the greens have enjoyed the ability to dismiss any scientist or layperson who refutes anthropogenic global warming as a “skeptic”, a “corporate shill” or a “denier”; as well as other un-publishable labels. Dr. Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel even went so far as to call for decertification of meteorologists “if they express skepticism about predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming” (Source: U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, Marc Morano – January 17, 2007). The greenolution has enjoyed an unrivaled existence for nearly four decades.

    So, why are today’s environmentalists so upset? It is precisely because their ability to use dubious labeling and to call for extreme solutions has been challenged. And that challenge comes not only from political naysayers and laypersons, but from individuals with any number of university pedigrees behind their names. There finally exists a well-educated, well-informed resistance movement that is pushing back. The existence of this resistance movement should be viewed as a positive, because it should open the pathway for debate and eventually workable solutions. Unfortunately, this would-be opportunity for debate has proven futile, because the environmental movement has grown beyond simply a collective effort to clean up our act. It has grown into nothing less than a full blown religion. It is a religion that has even found its way through the doorways and into the texts of traditional religions. Any attempt by the resistance to engage the greens in debate is viewed as an attack on their core belief system (i.e. their faith). This faith is no less real than that of a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, and so on. Academia and self-proclaimed atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins) have said that you cannot challenge a “believer”, because his faith has rendered him close-minded. Is there any denying that the minds of the green faithful are closed to any differences of opinion, even those supported by the best science?

    To close, I am sure that your skin is thick enough to handle a little creative criticism and maybe even the occasional personal attack. So, keep on blogging and don’t let any of us naysayers discourage you too much.

    BTW, Joe Biden said the following on the CBS Evening News:

    “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened,'” (Source: Yahoo! News – September 23, 2008)

    Last time I checked, FDR was not President in 1929 and Philo Farnsworth’s effort to develop television was still in its infancy. Now, I will concede that Mrs. Palin (like us) can only state her opinion about global warming since she is not a scientist. Joe, on the other hand, is an attorney and should know his history; especially the history of the office he could potentially assume.

  4. rockymtnway

    Sadly, I agree with a lot of what you are saying. As long as we’re talking about something we can’t see with our own eyes, smell with our own noses, and taste with our own tongues, most people won’t be motivated to change their behavior. Global warming isn’t going to be resolved in a free market capitalist society by telling them their values are wrong. This needs to cease being a values debate with “Joe the Plumber” between high carbon fuels vs. investing in zero carbon alternatives. There’s really two ways out of this.

    The first, unfortunately, is the most likely path. Based on pure economics, the cost of carbon fuels will rise to the point as their supply runs out that low carbon or zero carbon alternatives are less expensive. As we’re recently seen, when gas prices at the pump were in the $4.25/gallon, folks dramatically reduced consumption (6% lower in June 2007 vs. June 2008). The longer the economic incentive is present, the more people will be motivated to buy CNG and Hybrid cars. As there’s more demand for CNG, more home owners will be lured toward solar and the more power companies will be lured toward wind. In the meantime, millions of tons of CO2 will be going into our atmosphere every year for the next 50-150 years.

    However, there is an alternative. If Washington would grow a spine, listen to the leading scentists, and recognize the urgency of the problem today, they could mandate change. Be it through a cap and trade program, tax incentives for alternatives, a BTU or carbon tax, our leaders could effect a real and meaningful change over the next 20 years. Even a $4.00/gallon federal gasoline tax that goes toward repairing infrastructure and building new low carbon transportation alternatives (light rail, high speed trains, etc.) would start the change.

    This is not a true democracy, it’s a republic. As such, our hope is that we can elect people wiser and more well informed than ourselves to make tough decisions on our behalf. There has been a lack of this kind of leadership for a lot of years, probably dating back to the 1960s and early 70s, but it can be done. During that era, our leaders acted like leaders and passed tough new legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. None of these laws were popular at the time. All faced stiff opposition from both constituents and the business community, be we are all better off for it. While Lyndon B. Johnson is gone from the White House, we have examples that tough legislation can be passed with strong-arm tactics in the congress when it’s necessary. Our job is to elect the right people and lean on them to make the tough choices that will bring our children a better future.

  5. Adam Williams

    thanks to all of you for some fantastic thoughts in response to what i had feared may have been a too emotional post. hell, maybe it still was, but i appreciate the feedback and great food for thought from all of you.

    @ bobby — no, i wasn’t referring to you in any specific sense. and i really appreciate your list of sources for me to give a look. i readily admit i have much room for learning. and your cited sources give me pause — and more confusion. information and opinions and interpretations maybe are drowning us all.

    it’s overwhelming and feels like if i read and put trust in Source A, someone will rip it and say that Source B is what i should have read. then i read sources B, C, D and E and there are believers of A and F, G and Z who say not to trust those. confusing. but thanks, again. i’ll keep giving these things more thought.

    @ justin – thanks for the reminder that disagreement does not have to be a bad thing. it’s not that i considered the general idea of disagreement bad, of course, but i think in recent months i’ve had trouble staying calm amidst the crazy polarization that has occurred throughout our political process.

    i am counting the days until the election when i hope, regardless of who wins the presidency, we can all breathe a little easier because the divisive hostility will hopefully subside a bit.

    i certainly welcome the differences of viewpoints when they are added together for constructive results. it’s the piling up of animosity of late that has stirred me up so much.

  6. Bobby B.

    @ rockymtnway – Are you kidding? A $4.00/gallon federal gasoline tax. The feds already make 500% more per gallon than the oil companies that make the stuff. Rather than plunge all of us into a full blown depression and turn the clock back 200 years, why don’t you and your friends just elect to quit driving.

    @ adam – I personally enjoy the divisive hostility that accompanies a presidential election cycle, since it is one of the few times that people are willing to discuss and defend their beliefs. However, this campaign is still being handled with kid gloves. Each side could go so negative on the other – because there is so much material – that the election could be settled with pistols at ten paces.

  7. rockymtnway

    @ Bobby: No, I’m not kidding. It’s worked well in Europe to pay for their highway infrastructure rather than subsidising it with income and corporate taxes. Sure, it would need to be phased in over a number of years, but during that ramp up period people and industry would be forced to look at their future purchases carefully. It’s also motivated Ford to sell a 65mpg car (Ford Focus TDI) and mid-sided van that gets 45mpg in Europe they won’t sell here. Supply and demand.

    Do you really doubt that we’re running out of oil and prices will reach $10 per gallon on their own in the next decade? Why not intervene and prevent a crisis later by moving people to pay the real costs of their lifestyles? If we know alternative fuels cost more and we know that oil is a finite resource, aren’t we just robbing our children’s future by doing nothing?

    Even DOE doesn’t think the supply is endless:

  8. Justin Van Kleeck

    Whatever the amount added to gas prices and other things, we (in America especially) need to do much more to factor all costs into the price of various goods and services. These sort of costs on the environment, people, etc. are almost universally excluded by manufacturers. If they were included, prices for almost everything would soar–and perhaps consumers of all ideologies and demographics would take notice and then take action.

  9. Bobby B.

    @rockymtnway – $4.00 per gallon might be fair if the sum of my remaining tax burden were alleviated. If it replaced income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, vehicle taxes, etc., ad nauseum, it might be worth considering. I have seen the Ford Focus TDI (which means Turbo Diesel Injection) that will not be offered in the US. For some reason we don’t like diesel. Plus, that version of the Focus is incapable of satisfying all those safety requirements for which Ralph Nader lobbied.

    And yes, I do doubt that we are running out of oil. The deep earth adiabatic theory seems to be more realistic that the dead dinosaur theory. Some pools that we thought we had pumped dry years ago are again producing. Since the dinosaurs did not return and die and decompose in the last 100 years, how does one explain the phenomenon?

    @Justin – That is probably the most cynical and cold-hearted statement you have ever penned. Putting an arbitrary price on a product to cover “all costs” fails to solve anything. Who currently pays the taxes that fund everything? Wage earners who provide goods and services. Driving up the cost of those goods and services beyond the wage earners income levels will only put those wage earners out of work and prevent them from being consumers. Without having the ability to redistribute the wealth of the wage earners and the consumers, who is going to pay for all this “action” you guys want?

    To quote Jedidiah from “Night at the Museum”, “Somebody’s gotta pay!”

  10. Justin Van Kleeck

    Bobby, I was speaking in the broadest, most generic terms possible because the prices would all require extremely detailed and particularized measures of calculation. They would not be “arbitrary” but would reflect all factors involved in bringing goods to market or performing services. Yes, calculating these costs would be difficult and surely debatable. But simply leaving them out for the future is not a good option either in my opinion. Keeping prices low simply for the sake of encouraging more consumption is not a valid justification. This seems to me more like subsidies, which have been abused in myriad ways. In the short term it may seem cold and cynical, perhaps, but in the long term I think having more accurate prices is a more sustainable approach for the persistence of life–and the resources that allow us to make all those goods and perform those services.

  11. Bobby B.

    Justin, how do you even begin to calculate such theoritical downstream costs?

    If I were playing the devil’s advocate, I would ask if you are really ready to utilize John McCain’s hatchet to cut out the dependent class within our society (even for the short term) to save the planet? Hurricane Katrina taught us that portions of our population have been dependent – in whole or in part – on government assistance since FDR’s New Deal. That’s three generations in some cases. How do these souls survive that short term without the benefit of wealth redistribution? How does making their lives more difficult benefit Gaia?

    Now back to being myself. You my friend are starting to sound like a Constitutionalist. That is awesome! Personally, I think a small hatchet would be a good idea although applied differently than you probably imagine. I honestly believe that all of us would make adjustments to our lifestyles or seek employment that provides the means to maintain some assemblance of our current lifestyles if forced to do so. Many have forgotten that mankind is resilient and driven to succeed.

  12. Charles Sifers

    As stated earlier by Bobby, the problem is that Environmentalism is a religious ideology, and not science, and the real agenda is for those who follow that religion, is to subjugate those of us who do not believe, as well as destroy our society and culture.

    I grew up with the Environmental movement, and remember joining the Cousteau Society in the 60’s. Jacques (unarguably the premier oceanologist of the time), told all us that the world’s oceans would be dead by 1990. Then we all were scared with the imminent threat of the new Ice Age in the 70’s, and on and on until the computer reached the point of which is could be programmed to “predict” climate trends, and has since been used as a club to further attack our society.

    Designing a computer to give the desired results is child’s play, today, yet not a single computer model has given the data that we observe empirically. Climate alarmists want us to take the fact that these models are wrong, as proof that they are right, further clouding an already murky mishmash of myth.

    How much data do we need to know that the Earth’s climate is changing? Well, any fool can see that it is. The truth of the matter is that it’s changing all the time, with the idea of steady state being refuted in all other scientific disciplines long ago.

    I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t want a clean planet, but should we go back to living in caves so that people who see nature through the lens of a Disney movie can have their fantasy?

    Not gonna happen folks, and until you decide what it is that you really want, then you’ll continue to be marginalized as the climate cools back down, and the whole AGW scare takes its place in a long line of b.s that the public got fired up about for a while.

    In short, if you really care about being good stewards, then work to address real issues that you can make a difference in, and stop expecting the rest of us to get down on our knees and supplicate at the feet of your god/dess.

  13. Justin Van Kleeck

    Bobby, you always make me chuckle. The problem I see with your logic is that you are thinking about costs only in economic/financial terms. Yes, a market economy of cheap goods is fine for those who are consumers and yes, it keeps some people in the market as consumers. But a cheap shirt made by a kid in an Indian sweatshop has serious human costs not reflected at all on the price tag. So I am concerned about the environmental costs but also much more humanitarian costs…costs we are already paying even if not with money.

    And I am not even qualified to say how those more inclusive (accurate) prices can or should be calculated…but they need to be. Not just for Gaia but for humans, too.

  14. Bobby B.

    @Charles – Finally, another reasonable skeptic has stepped up to the plate at sustainablog. Welcome to the jungle! I never joined the Cousteau Society, but I did have his ocean encyclopedia series on my shelf when I was a kid. It contained some of the most amazing undersea photographs, and was rather matter of fact scientifically without overdoing the “man is killing the ocean” theme.

    As far as environmentalism’s goal to “destroy our society and culture”, I agree that the major environmental organizations see this as their end goal. They have too many ties to other socialist front organizations to interpret their cause any other way. However, I think that fact is shrouded from the rank-and-file greenies. Most lay-greenies just want to make the world a better place to live, but can not see that the work of these environmental societies and scientific research facilities have two primary goals. Those goals are to stay in business and to change the course of the culture. If the rank-and-file greenie would just review the last few decades of the cause, he would learn that with every environmental success there exists another scare just over the horizon. Get DDT banned, then scare the public about ALAR, and then take on the whole pesticide industry. Warn of an impending ice age, wait a few years and create the global warming scare, but have the term “climate change” in your back pocket in case neither fulfills the plan. They need every next scare simply to keep the money flowing and to move us another step closer to complete socialism?

    I also find it interesting that the average greenie has no concept of the world in which the previous two or three generations lived. Anyone who was born prior to the mid-1940’s can tell you just how backwards “the good old days” really were. Forsaking modernity and turning the clock backwards to one-CFL households with detached outhouses is by no means the answer.

    @Justin – The humanitarian costs are an issue that ultimately cries out for a system that parallels that of the United States. The ratification of the United States Constitution in 1783 set into motion the most incredible experiment in the history of mankind. For the first time, someone realized that human liberty originated with the Creator (not the government) and that a representative republic was the best way to protect the citizens from the government. It may not have created a utopia and the original intent of the founders may be lost forever, but it has allowed for changes that have arguably been for the better. We have outstanding labor laws for children and adults within our borders and policies that seek to minimize the importation of goods made in sweatshops. However, other sovereign nations have no requirement to adhere to either our laws or our policies, and sadly, goods from those nations still reach our shelves. Would our nation be within its right to force other sovereign nations to adopt our form of government or to enact laws to protect their children? Since it would likely cause a military conflict and the average green is also anti-war, I would suspect your answer to be, “No.” Should we suspend all trade with the sweatshop nations to starve them into submission? That also may be too cruel. Maybe you should start reading Roger Simmermaker’s work over at World Net Daily to find out where you can purchase goods made by Americans. Since you would be paying a premium price (something many greens support for things like gasoline) for well-made American made goods, the need for those other nations to be unscrupulous low-cost producers might be alleviated and allow them to abandon their sweatshop ways.

  15. Ellen

    Well, there are a LOT of facts out there — political, as well as scientific. So when you realize that Al Gore, the High Priest of the global-warming faith, uses much more electricity, emits much more carbon, and covers much more ground than most of us…

    If they’re so serious, why aren’t they listening to themselves? And if they themselves don’t do anything but talk about self-restraint, why should the rest of us do anything?

    Two sets of facts, you see — one is that there seems to be global warming (though the last couple of winters have more undermined than underlined that). The other is that the leaders AND followers of global-warmingism are hypocrites and fanatics.

    In short, while you may feel deniers are blind, shortsighted fools – I feel anybody who swallows Al Gore whole is an equally blind, shortsighted fool. And I guess a third fact is that the apostles of global-warmingism had a good hand in making me feel that way.

  16. Robert Reppy

    You are absolutely right about the severity of the polarization. I am a mild-mannered professional middle-aged man, not prone to extremes, yet I find myself quite caught up in the grip of it.
    I don’t just dislike Bush and the Republicans. I loathe them. I despise them. I rue the fact that I have to share the same planet as them.
    I look at people willing to vote for McCain despite the last 8 years of Republican rule, and I cannot for the life of me fathom how they could possibly think that way. Their mindset is as foreign to me as if they were aliens from another world, or an entirely different species.
    I see very little places where their worldview can mesh with mine. What they want to happen I oppose, and those things I see necessary, they oppose. Where is the common ground? There is very little, I’m afraid, and in the coming culture wars, I don’t plan to surrender. The Republicans aren’t the only ones whose guns are protected by the Constitution. If – no, WHEN – the fighting starts, whose side will YOU be on? The fate of life on Earth hangs in the balance. We either lose it to the forces of anti-life and right-wing extremism, or we save it for all future generation.
    Decide, and then don’t be a wimp about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *