At the end of his piece on Peter Gleick’s messy attempt to uncover untruths at the Heartland Institute (what I call Climategate II), New York Times reporter Andy Revkin says, “The only people I see out there in the climate fight who – as far as I can tell — never admit to an error are people with agendas from which they can never stray. They’re perfect.”
He’s being tongue-in-cheek. I get it. But there is something critically important in his statement that should not be overlooked: most people believe they exist well within their agendas. The restauranteur serving organic juice in plastic cups, the journalist flying to Tuvalu to document the impacts of climate change, the professor complaining about gaining weight while ending each day with a bar of chocolate (me), we live out these consistencies every day, locked into rhythms and patterns that we no longer notice.
Reconciling these inconsistencies is painful. You have to live with your decision. To admit error is to confront complexities that leave us disoriented and scared. Based on current rhetoric, to admit error around climate skepticism is to invite suffering: floods, droughts, hunger, disease, wars over resources. This sounds dramatic, but think about how the brain processes risk: we fear the airplane crash but think nothing of getting in the car. Risk analyst David Ropeik explains, “By definition, fear is more emotional than rational. We fear before we think.”
Revkin implies is that it is an act of hubris to never admit you’re wrong. Correct. But behind that arrogance is fear. It is easier to contort facts into some maintenance of the status quo than to contemplate the seemingly apocalyptic, carbon-constrained future we have articulated. Perhaps we are better served helping people envision hopeful alternatives of what lies ahead - and working toward that future.