Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Melbourne launch of Alan Moran’s new book, Climate Change – Treaties and policies in the Trump era. The book is a history of international climate agreements from Rio in 1992 up to the recent Paris Agreement and it provides context for how Trump’s election and presidency will affect attempts to force wind and solar power down the throats of the citizens of Western countries.
To say the evening’s attendees were united in their skepticism would be understating the quiet ferocity that permeated the room. I thought that the two speakers were quite courageous to open up the presentation for questions but then again Alan has books to sell. Needless to say there was a fair amount of climate nerdeurysm on offer as a number of individuals attempted to outdo one another in a pea-cocking display of climate facts, figures, and outrages, most of which added about as much to the discussion as one would expect when certain middle aged men are no longer allowed to play with train sets. Still, their hearts were in the right place.
Alan’s book is also replete with facts and figures, and graphs and charts too for that matter. There is no doubt that logic and facts, not to mention satellite data, all go against the puerile arguments of the worshipers at the altar of climate change. But this is where things fall down when attempting to use a didactic argument against those who are committed to believing in an ideology. Climate change zealots are only interested in so-called factual information insofar as it confirms to their belief system. If the facts don’t support their religion then they will reject them with any number of handy get-out clauses. You may as well be an atheist attempting to dismantle a born-again Christian’s new found love affair with baby Jesus by presenting them with logical arguments against the teachings of the bible. You’re not going to get anywhere.
Ordinary people believe in climate change because it makes them feel good about themselves. At school, children learn that they can “change the world!” Thus as adults their great self-righteousness surfaces when they are informed on an episode of Four Corners that switching off a light bulb will help save the Great Barrier Reef from extinction. This confirms with their personal world view. They are in effect doing good, and more importantly they are seen to be doing good. Thus at a social gathering they can boast with evident satisfaction of all the little things they are doing to help “save the planet” while at the end of the evening they drive happily away in their brand new Range Rover Evoque.
At a certain point in the presentation the question was asked of what approach skeptics could take at social gatherings were they are severely outnumbered. How should a skeptic attempt to sway believers in climate change away from their wind-powered tabernacle?
As far as I’m concerned the one thing you must not do is to attempt to persuade them with facts. These people do not care about facts and their high-mindedness and feel-goods beat your obscure satellite data patterns any day of the week. Any attempt at logical reasoning will also fail for the simple reason that you will be pronounced as a bad person who is guilty of bad think. After all, don’t you want to save the planet? And what about the children?
The only way to counter this public emotional guilt-tripping and manipulation is to utilize the art of rhetoric. You need to attack an ideological position with rhetoric and the best rhetoric is ridicule. Don’t lay out your own facts; instead mercilessly mock theirs. Point out their evident hypocrisies on the issue as you innocently inquire if they will be trading in their Range Rover for public transport. Openly laugh at their conceit at actually believing as a functional adult that they can save the world.
In short you need to make them feel bad about being a climate change believer. If being a believer is all about feeling good and the satisfaction it brings then the only way to counter the problem is to invert the behavior outcome. Don’t get into arguments with these people, and for heaven’s sake whatever you do, don’t get upset. Your best weapon is laughter – laughter at them. If people begin encountering uncomfortable ridicule whenever they attempt to display their green credentials, eventually they will modify their behavior and hopefully stop this nonsense all together. The only ones remaining will be the true zealots and you’re never going to change their mind short of lining them up against a brick wall.
A combative level of pure mastery is the ability to switch from didactic to rhetorical argument as your opponent attempts to weasel his way out of difficulty by confusing facts and emotions. Swat aside his facts with your own while adding a rhetorical flourish at the end to finish him off like a metaphorical shiv. The more you practice at it, the better you will get. So get out there at these social gatherings and start learning the art of climate trash talking.