Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 16, 2017

Science denial and acceptance with selective ignorance

In our personal opinions concerning the greatest problem we have today (which, of course, is the relentless advance of global warming), most of us fall into one of the two categories listed in the title above. The denial of the basic science involved in climate change is still widely embraced by a large portion of Americans and in the words of Mark Twain, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt”. It is also a major shortcoming of irrational people who cannot or will not accept the logical conclusions derived from scientific evidence. The symptoms of this malady include a distain for science itself, and the promotion of “alternate truths” based on religious, philosophical, or economic beliefs and preferences. Essentially all of the Republicans presently in control of all branches of our federal government are members of an industrial/governmental consortium of deniers who do not accept the prevalent views of science. This is most unfortunate, of course, because the disciplines of science have historically provided us with our most accurate predictions of what Mother Nature is likely to do in the future in response to any changes that occur on our planet.

An equally large number of Americans today seem to accept the scientific view of climate change. In actually combating that problem, however, it is also necessary for these believers to actually “do” some substantial things about it and this is where the rub still comes. Many, even among the most progressive believers of the science, still don’t get it. “Talking the talk” and “walking the walk” are two very different things, of course. When “doing” requires substantial changes in our lifestyles, even the believers can completely ignore some of the most important aspects of the science – that part that tells us what needs to be done. In doing so, these more progressive citizens demonstrate “selective ignorance” of the science involved resulting in behaviors that differ relatively little from those of the hard-core deniers of climate change.

There is perhaps no easier way to illustrate this point than to consider our most preferred mode of long distance travel – that provided our airline industries. I have met very few progressives who recognize the need for major changes in this area and most, in fact, tend to completely ignore the suggestion. Since I have previously provided considerable detail about the increasing effect of airline travel on CO2 emissions in another post (see Air traffic, out of control in November 2016 archives) I will simply refer you to that post here rather than repeat its contents.

The environmental progressives of today do happily relate many of the beneficial things they do undertake in order to reduce their carbon footprints. They are also generally supportive of alternate forms of energy production. But again, they still avoid changes in those aspects of their preferred standard of living for which acceptable alternatives are not yet readily available. Again, our flying habits provide clear examples of this. Flying to and from distant places, rapidly and frequently, is now commonplace and increasing. Rather than doing something about this specific problem, we tend to favor programs that enhance it. Consider, for example, our now extensive “frequent flyer” programs by which supposedly “necessary” business-related travel can be used to obtain typically “unnecessary” private excursions. Consider also the recent explosion of “studies abroad” programs promoted by our colleges and universities through which thousands of students, alumni, and faculty members fly to remote locations of our planet. Also, there are the humongous travel campaigns directed at the general public. While the benefits of these travel programs to its participants are clear, it must also be recognized that there is no such thing as “good” or “ethical” CO2 emissions. All man-caused CO2 emissions must now be considered “very, very bad” and all carbon intensive aspects of our current lifestyles must be changed – if one accepts the prevailing science of climate change and cares about the wellbeing of future generations.

Thus, we have two, and not just one, huge sectors of America today whose attitudes need to be either changed or overcome somehow. Of course, we need to convince the deniers of man-caused climate to accept the prevailing view of our scientific communities. But we also need to convince our existing set of environmental progressives that they should not indulge in selective ignorance of those aspects of the science concerning the actions that must be undertaken. While both of these tasks are formidable, both would be greatly facilitated by the adoption of a stiff and continuously increasing tax on the fossil fuel extraction until we manage to leave it all in the ground. Because we have ignored this problem for so long, there really are no longer any other good options available to us.

In considering the message related in this post, please keep in mind the following set of FACTS.

  1. The extra CO2 mankind adds to the atmosphere every day will last for several centuries resulting in continued heating, which, in turn, will last for several millennia.
  2. Our excess atmospheric CO2 is the main long-term driver of global warming.
  3. The wealthy portions of the Earth’s population (which includes me) have, by far, the greatest carbon footprints.
  4. Changes in the behaviors of the wealthy will have the greatest effect on total global CO2 emissions.
  5. If you want to put a happier face on the picture I have related here, you should spend more time reading the deniers’ “literature”.



  1. Note from Eric Grimsrud: I asked David Camp for input concerning this post and he did that by rewriting it using his own words and thoughts. His rewrite was outstanding in my opinion and I decided to show it here in the comments section. Dave Camp is a leading spokesperson for action on climate change in Spokane and the state of Washington. Many thanks, Dave.

    Science Denial vs. Selective Acceptance by David Camp

    In considering the relentless advance of global warming, most of us fall into one of two categories: those who deny all of the problem and those who deny part of it.

    We all know irrational people who will not accept scientific evidence, and who insist on “alternate truths” based on religious, political or economic doctrines. As Americans, we are governed by these people; the fossil-fueled Republicans who increasingly control all branches of our federal government, along with most of our state and local governments as well. Speaking with them about climate science can be as useless as arguing with a pig, which gets one nowhere and merely annoys the pig.

    However, the greater challenge may be the majority of Americans who accept the scientific view of climate change yet balk at actually doing anything about it. When “doing” requires substantial changes in our lifestyles, even the enlightened manage to ignore the inconvenient part of science that tells us we must act. We can carry on about the melting of West Antarctica, but don’t ask us to stop flying, driving, or buying inefficient houses twenty miles from work.

    For progressives, airlines are often the greatest failing. When a single long-distance flight can do the climate more harm than an entire year of driving, it can be a little puzzling to hear proud environmentalists waxing poetic about villas in Tuscany, conferences in Tokyo, treks in Nepal and safaris in Tanzania. Suggest videoconferencing, or vacationing closer to home, and they’ll look at you as if you just offered to sell them a counterfeit wristwatch.

    Flying is now commonplace and rapidly increasing. Rather than doing something about this, we favor things like frequent flyer programs that make it worse. Universities promote their ever-growing study-abroad programs. A gigantic global tourism industry sings the praises of faraway paradises.

    Travel may broaden the mind, but, these days, often at the cost of honesty. There is no such thing as “good” or “ethical” CO2 emissions. One cannot accept the science of climate change and care about the wellbeing of future generations while gleefully jetting off to play on the other side of the planet.

    Thus, we have two, and not just one, huge sectors of America today whose attitudes need to be either changed or overcome somehow. Of course we need to defeat willfully selfish, conservative deniers of climate science. However, we also need to spur the greater majority of more open-minded Americans to action.

    While both of these challenges are formidable, both can be solved by the adoption of a stiff and continuously increasing tax on carbon pollution, which would make it impossible for anyone to ignore any extra burdens they put on our fragile climate system. Because we have ignored this problem for so long, there are no longer any other good options left to us. If we continue in willful ignorance, it’s hard to imagine that we will have any good options at all.

    David Camp, Spokane Washington

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