By Alex Berezow
Recently, I gave a seminar on “fake news” to professors and grad students at a large public university. Early in my talk, I polled the audience: “How many of you believe climate change is the world’s #1 threat?”
Silence. Not a single person raised his or her hand.
Was I speaking in front of a group of science deniers? The College Republicans? Some fringe libertarian club? No, it was a room full of microbiologists.
How could so many incredibly intelligent people overwhelmingly reject what THE SCIENCE says about climate change? Well, they don’t. They just don’t see it as big of a threat to the world as other things. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them felt that antibiotic resistance and pandemic disease were the biggest global threats. One person thought geopolitical instability was the biggest concern.
I told them that I believed poverty was the world’s biggest threat. The reason is poverty is the underlying condition that causes so much misery in the world. Consider that 1.3 billion people don’t have electricity. And then consider how the lack of that basic necessity — what the rest of us take completely for granted — hinders their ability to develop economically and to succeed, let alone to have access to adequate healthcare. If we fix poverty, we could stop easily preventable health problems, such as infectious disease and malnutrition.
Was I booed out of the room? No, the audience understood why I believed what I did. But woe unto you who try to have a similar conversation with climate warriors.
Can Smart People Disagree About the Threat of Climate Change?
What so many in the media (and apparently the climate science community) fail to understand is that people have different values and priorities. Foreign policy analysts are terrified of North Korea. Economists fear Brexit and a Eurozone collapse. Geologists, especially those in the Pacific Northwest, fear a huge earthquake. Experts across the spectrum perceive threats differently, usually magnifying those with which they are most familiar.
That means smart people can accept a common core of facts (such as the reality of anthropogenic global warming) without agreeing on a policy response.
Yet instead of being a place to debate a policy response for complex science issues, the media have chosen to be an extension of the militant Twitterverse. Even if you are just discussing courses of action, you are not allowed to deviate from climate orthodoxy lest you be labeled a science-denying heretic.
Perhaps journalists should spend more time talking to microbiologists.