|Near one of my favorite walking and biking paths on the Willamette.|
By Bob Ferris
Being fully a senior now and absolutely retired I am joining other seniors in senior stuff. For instance, I am a member of two walking groups and one that bikes. I also am in a writing group. These activities expose me to a lot of exercise and ideas as well as opinions. Great stuff that keeps me semi-fit and thinking.
During one of my walking groups, the one that does six to eight mile hikes, I mentioned to the woman next to me that many of us moved to Eugene, Oregon from hotter places and now the heat had found us again. We actually put in air-conditioning two years ago. She disagreed, in part, because my comment smacked of climate change. She does not believe in climate change and assured me that it was not any hotter here now than it had been in the twenty years that she had lived in the Willamette Valley. I countered softly that I had been at Oregon State University in the early 1970s and it was cooler then. I left it at that.
The next day was the walk-and-talk group which goes about two miles stops for coffee and then returns to the Campbell Senior Center. While roaming the streets of Eugene, the topic of yellow jackets was raised and the same woman stepped forward and said they were more numerous now than they had been in the past. Hmm. She ended by saying she felt that the increase was because of the hotter weather. Everyone nodded at that. I turned and gave an eye roll worthy of the Manafort trial.
I wonder how so many in this country have become so conditioned to where the obvious could be completely obscured by a treasured belief or the fear of an unknown future. This example is glaring but there are others. For instance, I was recently responding to a comment on a Facebook thread where someone decried that they were sick and tired of being lied to by scientists and environmentalists about climate change and other matters. Being both I requested that the poster be specific because these were serious accusations. I got the climate change is "just a theory" response and the we-must-be-lying because we use words such as "probably" and "likely" in papers and dialogues. He also requested that we have this discussion off the thread and that I wait until he got home and retrieved files from his "research." My response was that the charge was made publicly so the debate should be public as well. He never got back to me and now the thread is stale. People have moved on kind of like they have from one Trump scandal to another. Moving from sad to numb.
I took a little time to see who this poster was and it turns out he is a real estate agent in Arizona. His LinkedIn profile shows that he went to a community college for a time and then graduated from a real estate program called a "college" which he proudly put in his education section. I suppose because of his likely scant exposure to science that I could excuse the "its just a theory" comment. He probably does not understand the fingernails-on-the-blackboard effect of that phrase on someone with training in the sciences. But the purported weasel words--probably and likely--should have resonated intellectually with someone in a profession so dipped in functionally similar disclaimers. If you read real estate documents you will find they are littered with protective language that basically says these are the facts as we know them but there could be other stuff such as termites or dry rot in spaces that could not be inspected. Do their conditional statements mean that real estate agents are liars? I guess I would be forced to say "probably" not with just a little bit of irony.
I worry about this complete lack of reason in these examples, but I believe they are also indicators of deficiencies in self-awareness and empathy. I often when someone is speaking about climate change authoritatively and incorrectly ask them how often they deal with polynomials or issues of statistical power. More often that not the response is that they never do or that they do not know what I am talking about. Both are telling comments as those who deal with climate change regularly work with complex equations with large numbers of variables and complicated statistical analyses. What this says about the person expressing "knowledge" is that they are experts in the materials they have been fed rather than experts on the topic due to examination of the primary literature or personal experimentation. That does not mean they are not intelligent, but their stored knowledge from faulty sources is about as useful as a PhD in say #Pizzagate or #Voodoogate granted by Trump University or Prager U.
The idea of empathy and the lack thereof is important. My general practice in dealing with conflict on complex issues is to study each of the opposing sides and to look for ways to explain the complexity in terms that each side can understand either together or independently. If you have family farmers on one side talking about market prices and environmentalists on the other side talking habitat destroyed nothing will be solved. But when it is understood that both parties are victims of agricultural policies that tend to favor processors rather than producers and tend towards crop surpluses and fence-row-to-fence-row planting regimes progress happens. This is a rational approach, but that is not what we are encountering in the climate debate. I do not sense that the realtor mentioned above empathized at all with the scientists or environmentalists nor was there an apparent willingness to do so. And that is unfortunate.
To have this amalgam of observational disconnection, hampered self-awareness, and paucity of empathy in the general populace is problematic but to have it as we do in a president, an administration, and a large section of our elected officials at this particular junction is having and will have devastating consequences for this generation and those to come. But that is why we have Secretary Zinke arguing that what is happening in California has no link to climate change while he and the president are pushing fracking and pouring the coal to it--literally and figuratively. The yellow jackets, fires, floods, and disappearing lands are trying to tell us something. We only have to watch, listen, and think. But for some of us that seems too much or too scary.