Science, Tech & Environment

Denial near and far

A recent conference on climate change in New York City claimed that global warming is a hoax. Scientists still widely debate what the impacts of global warming will be, but they don't debate that the earth is warming and they don't debate that the warming is being driven by human activity. These basic conclusions were put forth in a huge report from the U.N. last year, but the people at the New York summit were unimpressed. Many say this is no longer healthy skepticism, this is denial. When people are faced with a fact that's too uncomfortable to accept, they deny, despite what might be overwhelming evidence. Denial comes in different forms says this risk assessor. He says first is strategic denial. The second type is when people just can't believe something is true because it's too frightening, like when societies fail to prepare for pandemics. The third type is when reality threatens our world view. This happens across the planet, says this expert on large group psychology. He says entire nations regress and blur fantasy with reality. In Turkey, much of the nation denies the mass murder of Armenians before World War I, despite strong evidence. Sometimes denial and avoidance becomes blurred�we don't deny facts but we push them away. The psychologist says that climate change makes our world view feel threatened�we are part of the problem and that's hard for us to accept. Yet science is not war, it can be tested and verified, so why do so many humans deny the existence of global warming? Maybe in part because it's a highly politicized issue, pitting Republicans against Democrats. This analyst says mistrust of the messenger is certainly a rationale for denial, and many Republicans mistrust Al Gore. The analyst says guilt is a bad motivator and some environmentalists have sometimes been too aggressive, saying to the public that your consumptive lifestyle is responsible for destroying the world and therefore you ought to stop. He says a better tactic might be to point out how much the world has improved in the last 100 years but in the last decade we've realized there was an unintended and unknowable horrible outcome, that this uptick in quality of life is bad and who could've known? Denial is also a loaded term, often associated with the denial of atrocities in Nazi Germany, and that's why this analyst doesn't like using it. He says when you refer to your opponents as deniers, you're associating them with some of the most evil people in history. And then that turns the debate into a discussion of the personalities involved in the conflict, instead of the matter of conflict itself. But by referring to others as deniers, that also makes you a victim, says this analyst. And no matter how much evidence is presented, some people just won't accept something they don't believe in. of course some people are hoping the election of Barack Obama might force some people to reassess long held beliefs.

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