January 9, 2020

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Joel Nodelman

Abusing the Person – The Number 1 Lazy Climate Change Tactic

About the author

Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.

Today I start my series on bad climate arguments with the number one lazy climate change tactic, abusing the person, also known as the ad hominem argument.

But first, I want to clarify some fuzzy language. We use the word argument rather loosely. Most often, we mean a quarrel, or a heated disagreement, with lots of hurt feelings and, not much hope of agreement. A quarrel or a fight. The best we can hope for is emotional compromise, an apology, and maybe forgiveness.

This sort of argument is not my focus today. It's the realm of counselors and mental heal professionals. As an applied scientist, this isn't an area where I can claim any expertise.

In the world of applied science, we use the word "argument" to mean a logical reasoning process, based on evidence that leads to a conclusion.

Abusing the Person - A Lazy Climate Change Tactic

This differs from the emotional conflict of a quarrel. Emotions have very little to do it. We are looking for evidence to support a conclusion, and based on that conclusion, an action plan founded on concrete data and rigorous science.

Emotions have nothing to do with the truth. How we feel doesn't alter facts. It isn't a matter of belief or faith. It is concrete. It's measurable. It's observable.

The point of abusing the person is to derail the discussion. When we accept the temptation to respond in kind to the personal attack, discussion descends into conflict. There is no chance of understanding or consensus. All meaningful dialogue is done. And it is hard to not take the bait. We are all human. We all have emotions. And, it is easy to be offended, especially, when there is no factual basis for the attack, or even more frustrating, when there is no linkage between the attack and the climate argument I am trying to present

Abusing the Person is Common

We have seen a lot of this recently in the climate dialogue. For example, folks say "Greta Thunberg is not qualified to talk about climate change, she is too young, she actually uses carbon based products (the hypocrite), and she doesn't do anything but talk."

I have seen all of this in my social media feeds. But, none of this noise, true or false, has any bearing on her primary argument - “Read the science, listen to the scientists and take action.”  That doesn’t change, by attacking her age, her character, or willingness to speak out. Making the discussion about Greta, doesn’t make the climate change crisis go away.

We'd Love to Hear from You

We visited common lazy climate tactics in previous posts, and will build on these themes over the next few videos. Hope you enjoy. We would love to hear what you have to say on these topics. 

  • What are the most common climate tactics that you have seen?
  • How did you deal with them?
  • What advice do you have for others when they face lazy climate tactics?

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