Today, one of my pet peeves, the sleazy black and white climate argument.I see this all the time, in political discussion, on social media, or simply dealing with folks every day. It is so common, we are often blind to it, and so fall into its trap. In academic circles we call this the “false dilemma” or “false dichotomy”. But, these are just fancy ways of saying that the argument incorrectly demands that we accept there are only two sides to any issue. If you accept one, you reject the other. Most times, this is simply false. As the heat builds up in the climate dialogue, I see this more and more often, even from very knowledgeable and otherwise trustworthy folks. So, what does this look like?Here is an example I have seen a bunch of times over the last few months.
“Either you agree that climate change is a hoax OR you are against energy workers.”
My problem here is that, while I know that climate change is real, I worked for many years in energy and absolutely; I support energy workers; I was one for decades. This is not two sided coin. I don’t have to be against energy workers to support climate action. Actually, I can support both. This is the subtlety that the black and white argument deliberately glosses over. I can support energy workers and also ask questions about energy, the way we do things, and look for new opportunities and efficiencies. In fact, that was my job in the energy business for over twenty years. So, why does this matter?
Black and White Climate Arguments Create Conflict
My biggest problem with the black and white argument it is lazy, sloppy, and addictive. It tricks us into believing that we can treat any issue as a simple, two-sided battle, like a football game. You win or you lose. You are for me or against me. You either agree with me, or you are my enemy.But, in most things in life, there are shades of grey, and it is in exploring those shades that find the real solutions to our problems, and I might add, where we are most likely to find common ground.
Black and White Climate Argument and Friendly Fire
One of my biggest peeves is when black and white argument is used within the climate specialist community itself. We can demand of each other we accept one single, uniform approach to fixing this problem. Even worse, we can demand that we share a single set of values. If we don’t, we are branded as deniers. This is “friendly fire”, and it is very dangerous. It presumes that we already have all the answers we will ever need. It diverts us from our mission and opens the door for the trolls to slow down progress simply by stoking the flames and setting us against each other. And, we don’t make converts of anybody by scolding each other about our values and lifestyle. We make converts through harmonious leadership and example. Like it or not, we are all in this boat together.Here is a personal example.
“If you are working on climate change adaptation, you must be against reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” OR, sometimes they may say …“Either you work on climate change adaptation or you work on greenhouse gas management. You can’t have it both ways.”
This is one I’ve had directed at me for twenty years now, and it’s a crock. As an adaptation specialist, I am on the front lines of dealing with climate impacts on communities and people. I know we must reduce our emissions. I know that we must make fundamental changes to the way we generate and use energy. AND, I also know that we need to adapt to protect lives and property.These things are not mutually exclusive, they are equally necessary.
Black and White Climate Argument and the Acceptance Grieving Cycle
So, where does this all fit in the climate acceptance grieving cycle that I have been discussing the last few weeks? Once again, I see this as a form of bargaining, with my usual warning that trolls can use it as a diversionary tactic.Often folks present black and white arguments as a way to join in the discussion. In these cases, it is often better to engage with them, show them that the issue is far more nuanced than a football game, and use the opportunity to unearth some complexities of the issue.In this way, we can move one step further towards acceptance, and perhaps I may learn something new, and important, along the way.