In a startling Tweet that went viral, Jodi Doering, RN, a nurse in South Dakota, described caring for Covid-19 deniers, patients who believed the coronavirus was a hoax. During a rare night off, she lamented on Twitter, “I can’t help but think of the Covid-19 patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have Covid-19 because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens. Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening; this isn’t real.’ It just made me really sad.”
Such can be the risk of a strongly held false belief in America today. You can hold onto a belief more tightly than to the facts that challenge that belief. You can hold onto it until your dying day.
We can hold onto climate denial more tightly than to the science that challenges that belief. We can hold onto it until our dying day.
Do we understand why and how people might change their minds about the pandemic? Or our climate crisis?
We come to understand the world and our role in it by creating narratives that have explanatory power, make sense of the complexity of our lives and give us a sense of purpose and place. These narratives can be political, social, religious, scientific or cultural and help define our sense of identity and belonging.
Narratives are not trivial things to mess with. They help us form stable, cognitive and emotional patterns that are resistant to change and potentially antagonistic to agents of change (such as people trying to make us change our mind about something we believe). It’s the mechanism that helps us to make sense of the world around us.
Together with other factors that shape our belief system, such as our personality, our genetic make-up and our habits, it becomes one of the strongest influences affecting any decision that we make. The way we interact with others. The ways in which we react to any of the things that happen in our lives.
Following is a chilling example of a widely held false belief. In Australia, as well as our own western United States, the massive wildfires are smoking-gun evidence of the severity of climate change. While climate change does not directly start fires (ignition sources do), climate change has created record-breaking hot and dry conditions. However, those who deny that climate change is real are saying that the Australian fires are not due to climate change at all but, instead, are due to an outbreak of arson. According to them, over 200 arsonists across the country intentionally started these fires. Some have even claimed that it’s environmentalists who want to make it look like climate change is real when it isn’t.
But there is light at the end of this dark and smokey tunnel. Americans, it now turns out, are nearly four times more likely to say they’re alarmed about the climate crisis than to be dismissive of it. That’s the highest ratio ever since the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) first began gathering data on American attitudes about climate change back in 2008. According to survey data released on October 9, 2020, more than a quarter of the U.S. adult population, 26 percent, now thinks global warming and its attendant consequences are alarming. That’s more than double the 11 percent who were alarmed back in 2015, and almost four times the seven percent who currently say the climate isn’t changing.
Another light in that tunnel is President-elect Biden’s appointment of John Kerry as our nation’s presidential envoy for climate who will sit on the National Security Council (NSC), the first time the NSC has ever had an official dedicated to the climate crisis. Climate change is a world-wide, not just a national issue. As secretary of state, Kerry played a key role in negotiating the Paris agreement, which was adopted by nearly 200 nations in 2015. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris agreement, and Biden has pledged to rejoin it on his first day in office.
John Bos is a contributing writer to Green Energy Times. He has written about his concerns of an endangered environment for the past ten years. Your comments and questions are invited at firstname.lastname@example.org