The mental trick that delays action on climate change

“All or nothing at all” sang Frank Sinatra in the course of his popular hit All or Nothing at All. It’s a common enough phrase. But climate change denialists and their media out riders have used the thinking behind it to cast doubt, slow action and potentially destroy millions of lives. How so? This lucid piece by Jeremy Shapiro for The Conversation explains.

One of the fundamental errors of the human mind is black and white thinking, or, to put it another way, the all-or-nothing bias error. Where every new problem is instantly reduced to a stark “either A is true or B is true”. The possibility of subtlety, complexity and nuance is entirely dismissed. Why? As Jeremy puts it:

People are often susceptible to it because in many areas of life, dichotomous thinking does something helpful: It simplifies the world.

Binaries are easy to handle because there are only two possibilities to consider. When people face a spectrum of possibilities and nuance, they have to exert more mental effort. But when that spectrum is polarized into pairs of opposites, choices are clear and dramatic.

The consequences are deadly. He goes on:

Climate change deniers simplify the spectrum of possible scientific consensus into two categories: 100% agreement or no consensus at all. If it’s not one, it’s the other.

A 2021 review of thousands of climate science papers and conference proceedings concluded that over 99% of studies have found that burning fossil fuels warms the planet. That’s not good enough for some skeptics. If they find one contrarian scientist somewhere, they categorize the idea of human-caused global warming as controversial and conclude that there is no basis for action.

Dear readers, you know the rest. Look out of the window if you don’t believe us. If not, try to recall the debates on tobacco and health. Drinking and driving. Seat belts. Remind you of something?

As we see it at LSS the real weakness that has got us into this mess is educational. Far too many people leave school with the mistaken belief that knowledge equals certainty. And certainty equals knowledge. They are not the same things. Knowledge is awareness of the confidence limits which apply to a particular set of observations. Certainty does not exist; it is a delusion of weak minds whose owners are desperate to overcome feelings of insecurity and dread. it is a form of ignorance.

The battle between knowledge and ignorance continues. Will we all survive to see it resolved?

#climate change #global warming #cognitive error # denial

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