Denial is a funny ol’ game…
I’m currently in mid-spat with a industrial trade organisation I’m a member of. In their regular Friday mail-out, the ‘Did You Know?’ section appeared to be a cut’n’paste job on the blurb from a climate change denial book by mining geologist Ian Plimmer. Plimmer’s book has been ripped to shreds for repeating some of the oldest and most discredited climate change myths while ignoring the science, but it keeps bouncing back to the public arena.
After sleeping on it, I decided to stand up for science. So I complained and asked for a retraction. I was offered a chance to put my own view across in next week’s edition, so I thought “fair enough” and wrote two paragraphs ripping into Plimmer’s work and contrasting it with the scientific consensus. This was rejected as being a retraction – which I thought was the point. I sent off a strongly worded response and they’ve gone quiet.
So why am I bothering? Is it really that important?
Well, yes, it is.
1. OK, I’m a pedant – I hate people mindlessly repeating nonsense in a work context (if another trainer tells me communication is 93% non-verbal, I’ll try out a made up language on them…).
2. This industrial sector contains many companies at threat from the shift to a low carbon economy and many who could flourish in that low carbon economy if they are nimble and prescient enough to change. If these people take a business as usual approach thinking climate change is just a political fad, they’re sunk.
So can’t these eminent business people think for themselves? That’s a difficult question to answer. No valve manufacturer flourished in the transistor age, few people foresaw the current financial crisis and our newspapers are wilting under attack from cyberspace. Clever people do fail to see the road ahead. The reason is denial – “it will never happen to me”. I am seriously concerned that the continued oxygen of publicity given to professional climate change deniers will make industrialists sit back and say ‘we’ll wait until the smoke clears’ when they need to act now.
But it may be more complicated than that. There is a description in today’s Guardian of a 2004 psychology experiment which presented CIA documents which showed there were no WMDs in Iraq to pro-war conservatives. Strangely the evidence made the subjects more, not less, convinced that WMDs existed. In other words confronting people who are wrong about an issue with evidence that they are wrong pushes them into denial. So maybe it is right that my response is not published… who knows?