Essay| Time to walk away from the climate debate

Reasoning Together

Reasoning Together

Nearly 25 years ago, a marriage counselor asked me a simple question. Four words, and it changed my life.

I had been in and out of this relationship for several years. First we hung out, then we hung it up. We lived together on a commune, we moved out and then moved apart. We saw others, we moved back in together. We separated, got married, then separated again. It was your typical troubled-hippie relationship, circa 1970s.

Through all of it, there was a stew of anger simmering on a back burner. We had no idea what was fueling it, so we did the logical thing: we pretended it wasn’t there. Well, watched pots may never boil, but let me tell you, it’s the unwatched ones that seethe and roil out of sight, and, from time to time, explode. When they do, anyone nearby gets burned. There was never any actual violence, even verbal abuse, but the pain we inflicted on each other was real enough.

After one particularly bad scalding, we agreed to see a marriage counselor. Our first session started like a court hearing, with me as the prosecutor rattling off the charges against my then-wife. I was more like a cross between a prosecutor and an earnest shrink, actually.

“Charge #1 [fill in the blank]; Why did she do that?” “Charge #2; I don’t understand why she did such a terrible thing!” Repeat for charges 3-12. Why? Why? WHY?!

Finally, I turned to the judge/marriage counselor and pleaded: “I don’t understand how she can say she loves me and still do these things that are so hurtful!”

The counselor had the quiet hand-wringing demeanor of Gabriel Byrne’s character, Paul Weston, from In Treatment. He appeared to mull over my question. Then sat upright in his chair.

Gabriel Byrne“I’m not really interested in why she does those things,” he said, slowly. “What I want to know is: Why do you stay?”

Two days later I moved out. We got a divorce and that was that.

It’s the same with climate deniers. (Stay with me, here.)

Why do good, smart people continue to debate those who insist global warming isn’t caused primarily by human action? It’s not like the facts aren’t out there. This is settled science (as far as science can ever be considered settled). A list-serv of enviro-journo types to which I belong recently went through a small spasm along these same lines: “How can we best convince doubters that global warming is real?”

Once upon a time that was a legitimate question. No more.

Like the marriage counselor’s reaction to me digging into my former-wife’s motivations, I’ve lost interest in what motivates climate deniers. Religion? Politics? Money? I don’t know and I don’t care. The battle between those who accept global warming and those who don’t is like a really bad marriage where the two sides bicker endlessly over who’s right. This marriage cannot be saved. It’s time for a divorce.

Journalists and others need to turn our attention to solutions. Debating solutions to global warming is a sign of a healthy relationship. All sides have a common baseline from which we can build a solution.

Politically, massive resources should be used to defeat everyone in Congress who still wants to debate the modern equivalent of “Is the earth really round?” We need to divorce pols who are divorced from reality, and the proper venue for that is the ballot box (or in some cases the recall petition).

And then, we need to get on with our lives, with creating solutions to the largest problem facing us and future generations: global warming

All I can say for sure is that it worked for me.

Once I stopped debating deniers I met this really wonderful energy source named solar power. We’ve been seeing each other pretty regularly for several months now.

I’m happy to say I think it’s serious.

Turning, small

This essay ran first, in a slightly different form, in Mother Jones on-line.

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6 thoughts on “Essay| Time to walk away from the climate debate

  1. As a friend of mine always says, “When you live in the solution, the problem takes care of itself.” He says we have magic magnifying minds and whatever we focus our attention on, gets bigger. If we focus on the problem, THAT gets bigger. By focusing on the solution, we may find that the problem is not solved, it is dis-solved in that it simply stops being a problem and as such, no longer requires our attention.

  2. I agree with you, Osha. But there’s always that temptation to spend time on those who are leaning your way. “The Independents.” They may be good middlemen and middlewomen who might have an open door to swaying other indies and perhaps even a few deniers who respect them.

    Another way to go is to reframe climate change as energy independence. Then, people are going to renewables for different reasons, but at least they’re going!

    Great post, as always.

    Tor/Solar Fred

    • God bless you, then, Tor. (Really.) I find that I hardly have the time to investigate and write about solutions to the problem, so that’s where I focus my energy. Also, I can’t remember a single conversation where either the other person or I changed our minds on the issue as a result of our interchange. Perhaps it’s a personal failing of mine — my inability to sway people on this issue. Regardless, I wish the best for people who think differently on this issue, agree to disagree, and move on.

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