Court holds Court at MBC lecture series
David Court gave a lecture on Wednesday night, something he does a lot as a professor of Geography at Santa Barbara City College, only this time his audience was at the Mammoth Brewing Company and was probably much more sober than he’s used to.
Court, who also works at the Earth Research Institute in UC Santa Barbara and as a guide with Dave Miller’s International Alpine Guides in the summers, gave a presentation entitled “How To Talk About Climate Change and Not Ruin Turkey Dinner.”
During the conversational lecture, Court debunked climate myths, offered facts that his audience could cite in conversation, and ran through some social psychology techniques that may make it easier to change your stubborn Uncle Bob’s mind at the Thanksgiving table.
Myth #1: The Science is Not Settled
“If its cold outside, how can there be global warming?” your Uncle Bob might ask.
“It’s like Colbert said,” Court joked, “I just ate, therefore there is no world hunger.”
Court described climate as a personality and weather as a mood. Your grandpa might have a lovely personality, but when the Packers are losing he’s in a foul mood. So, too, does a cold day not preclude a warming climate.
It was this early on in the lecture that Court kicked the piece of paper he had been holding and said, “F*%k the notes.”
“There is consensus among 99.9% of scientists on anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change. Only one in 17,000 disagree, and that will always happen. It’s like the guy in [Monty Python’s] Life of Bryan who after Brian tells the crowd that they are all individuals says, ‘I’m not.’”
Court then acknowledged that there is also a surprising amount of political consensus.
“The Department of Defense takes this very seriously.” He showed a quote from former Defense Secretary James Mattis saying that climate change is going to affect places where we currently have active duty troops.
Myth #2: So what if the planet gets warmer? I like it warm.
If your Uncle Bob says he likes it a little warmer, Court said try to humor Bob and think of what benefits might come from climate change. It will be easier to explore the arctic. Crops will grow farther north, Russia will certainly have more usable land. Some even say there will be fewer winter deaths, but that doesn’t really make sense. That’s about it.
The ill-effects are slightly scarier and more numerous. There will be drought and famine, like there was recently in Syria, which will exacerbate migration crises. Rising seas will reduce beaches, and reduced habitat will kill many species of animals. Less of the planet will be habitable for humans.
Myth #3 Why listen to predictions when they are always wrong about the weather?
Like the “cold outside” argument, this is another example of the false equivalency between climate and weather. Scientists have the data to track climate on a geological timescale. Using tree rings, ice cores, remote sensing satellites and ocean buoys, scientists have been able to collect massive amounts of data, and it turns out that they have been fairly good at tracking and predicting the changing climate. We know that the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 has surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in the several million years because scientists have been able to measure it.
Myth #4: It’s not humans. It’s the natural changing of the climate.
There are some natural causes of climate change, i.e. volcanoes, which can put lots of sulfates into the air all at once. However, there are not enough volcanoes in the world to cause the amount of warming we’ve seen. Three-quarters of warming is anthropogenic. What can get confusing are the natural feedback loops that causes the earth to feed the flames of anthropogenic change. For example, warming causes the release of more water vapor which acts as a greenhouse gas. Also, as the ocean warms the thermohaline circulation of the oceans slows, which affects pretty much everything.
Court offered conversation techniques that are proven to be more effective with ideological opponents than arguing. He said to always listen, and in turn people will listen to you. You should use facts rather than emotional appeals, and try to fact-check others. Say, “that’s interesting, where did you learn that.”
Another tactic is to use the values of your Uncle Bob for your argument, as they are likely consistent with those affected by climate change.
If Uncle Bob cares about the economy, defense, and protecting traditional values, let him know that climate change portends immigration crises, military threats, a less kind planet for our children and economic unrest.
Court closed by offering the Cold War as a lesson in collaboration. Americans of all ideologies came together against a terrifying opponent. It led to the space race, more investment in science, and Bobby Fischer. Now, instead of nuclear holocaust, we must come together in the face of global climate disaster. It can be done.
In case you fail in your attempt at conversation, Court said, always have an exit strategy. “I have diarrhea” usually works.