Guest Blogger: Noah Henderson

Overcoming Climate Denial and Saving the Earth 

Noah Henderson

color close-up reading   

About the Blogger: Noah Henderson grew up in San Francisco and Carmel Valley, an avowed political leftist, critical thinker and student of nonviolence. Having been a professional musician and later a bus driver, he now works as a peer counselor and advocate for people with lived mental health experiences. Noah loves playing music, writing, and people. 

“One in four Americans is skeptical about climate change…who gives a shit? That doesn’t matter. You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking which number is bigger, 5 or 15? Or do owls exist? Or are there hats?”

   – John Oliver

I want to acknowledge at the outset that I am “on the side” of critical thinking and science. But that does not preclude me from understanding people who don’t think like I do.

It is often difficult to merge logic and beliefs. They are uneasy dance partners, and holding both in your mind at once is guaranteed to produce cognitive dissonance. We don’t tolerate personal conflict very well, so we choose one side or the other. It’s simpler, easier and less painful to do that, and we have trained ourselves (collectively) over time to pick a side.

I’m not going to argue which side to pick, that’s up to you. I’m not even going to present the science, because the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has done that. There are hundreds of scientists from around the world who are top advisers to governments on climate data.

We need to address the unintended consequences of hardened belief systems and the arrogance of the liberal and science-based communities. It doesn’t matter if we (I’m a critical thinking radical leftie) are right and refuse to work with the righties – we will still watch as the planet blows up. I’m not so sure about the religious fundamentalists – they may want the end of days to come, but there are many others besides the fundies who come from belief systems that we on the left ridicule.

It’s true that we could try educating them or politically beating them or waiting for those conservative dinosaurs to die off while we illuminate their young, but could we do any of those things in time to stave off the looming untenable future? We don’t have time to waste, and we need everyone on board, so it would be best if we figured out how to cooperate with them. We have no better choice.

For starters, let’s stop ridiculing them. That’s just going to make them dig in even harder, delaying the time we might join together for a brief moment in time to save ourselves. Side note: I don’t view the singularity or any “technology-based” future with kindness. I’m old school, like in Fahrenheit 451, where there are underground book people who keep literature alive by becoming the book they “own,” able to recite it to others and bringing those books forward into the future by living them. I’m not pleased at the thought of less nature and more technology. Once nature is gone, it’s gone.

People who develop strong belief systems as their modus operandi are either genetically predisposed or culturally motivated, neither of which would be readily changeable. Small, rural communities, the small-town ethos expressed so well in the movies of the 40s and 50s, have centralized beliefs and morals, which are quickly mobilized against dissent.

There is little support or opportunity to live outside the system. In the TV show Happy Days, Fonzie rode into town on his motorcycle wearing his leather jacket and he wowed the girls and the boys, but he always was well-mannered with Mr. and Mrs. C (Cunningham). I can’t imagine changing anyone’s mind that grew up like that, and many of us did grow up with those moralistic guides.

The way to get others to work with us is to validate them, treat them kindly and with respect, and ask for some kind of negotiations. People who are conservative in temperament often have a strong sense of right and wrong, and there are rules they find hard to transgress blithely. We can acknowledge those qualities. We have our own mirroring qualities with which we can recognize theirs as similar. Looking for something good in someone else is a winning strategy. It is also satisfying.

When they see that you look at them as equals, they will eventually become open to hearing what you have to say, especially if you’ve been willing to hear them, and if what you say is “how can we do this so we’re both happy,” they should be willing to work with you. They want to feel safe just like us, but we each have a different way of achieving that sense of safety. Theirs is just as valid to them as ours is to us, and unless we embrace that, increasing social division will ruin things for all of us and our children.

Transformational social change happens from the ground up, starting with individual conversations and expanding into massive movements. We have science on our side and plenty of creativity, but unless we can cooperate with others who are unlike ourselves, change is moot. We need them and they need us. We do need to keep educating ourselves and promoting the science, but we also need to include them however we can.



4 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Noah Henderson

  1. Could not disagree more.

    I’m also an old school lefty activist going back to SDS, the Diggers and Earthday 1970 which I worked on locally. With adversaries, for over 40 years, I’ve always been respectful to individuals and ready to listen to non-critical thinking arguments. Lots of them. But my experience is that while decorum should always be sought in personal encounters, it doesn’t much improve the odds that irrational beliefs, either from faith, ideology or ignorance are going to be changed in an argument about facts. With climate, you simply can’t avoid the necessity of rejecting non-rational, ignorant and anti-science beliefs. Unfortunately this is often taken as being attacked or rejected personally for one’s beliefs. If a person is unwilling to accept credible evidence, being merely friendly isn’t going to help. It’s a limited tactic. It is not a strategy for a complex problem.

    You say above that we “choose one side or another” because “We don’t tolerate personal conflict very well..” because “It’s simpler, easier and less painful to do that..” No, we don’t. We choose “our side” out of convictions that come from critical, evidence-based thinking. You seem to be suggesting there is a way “to cooperate with them” without (I assume) compromising the argument for radical change and radical solutions. Don’t know what you have in mind there. You can be as “kindly” about it as you like but with climate there can be no compromise on reality.

    Your premise: “we could try educating them or politically beating them..” but “We don’t have time to waste, and we need everyone on board, so it would be best if we figured out how to cooperate with them. We have no better choice.” You have it backwards, IMHO.

    First of all, emphatically no, we don’t need everyone on board. We DO need the 200 million US citizens already convinced of climate danger on board and engaged via a far better organized, more vocal and media savvy climate movement than the one we have. That better organized movement is provably now in the works.

    We need the groundswell of voter concern networked for serious political battle, and networked in common purpose with the rest of the climate movement: the science, business and academic & faith communities; progressive office holders at all levels; NGOs & campaigners of every stripe; social networks and alternative media; & not least, the progressive philanthropy community. You seem to be unaware or unconvinced of the potential of a highly collaborative cross-sector (and historically enormous) movement, compared to the value of working it out one-on-one with the opposition. I believe you should re-think that. We don’t have time for anything BUT educating the public and/or beating determined, massively funded anti-science candidates at the poles. The latter are not interested in working together on climate. But educated constituents are.

    Finally, I have no idea what you mean by characterizing liberals and scientists as “arrogant” on climate change. Really? How so?

    Posted by briansmith37 | June 8, 2015, 4:09 pm
  2. Thanks for your reply, Brian. Perhaps I didn’t write my thesis clearly, I thought I had. I’m not suggesting we accept or reject anyone’s ideology, and I certainly agree with much of what you say. What I want to get across is that I don’t think we’ll actually get real movement toward climate policies we so desperately need without some of the more conservative, true-believer kinds of people, many of whom might listen to sources that make them adversarial to progress. We have true believers on the left too, who while knowing the science and who are responding to facts simply refuse any accommodation to the conservative mindset.

    I’m not saying we should meet them half way or agree with their denial; I’m saying we should create a condition in which we can communicate because we need them. I feel if we treat them with respect and honor the fact that they, for whatever reasons, feel as strongly about their opinions as we do ours, we may have some relenting of animosity and some willingness to find common objectives when the fire and smoke between us clears up.

    So the question I pose is, can we make more headway with them than we can against them?

    Posted by Noah Oops-WrongPlanet Henderson | June 11, 2015, 11:52 am
  3. my late answer to you is that you either have no idea how hostile the intentions of anti-science proponents are, or you are just so committed to compromise and appeasement that you forget what is at stake. You don’t want to get your hands dirty with a competitive stance against an obvious evil. Well, your version of let’s-all-try-to-get-along-cause-that’s-the-cosmically-nice-way-forward…. is as naive as it gets.

    Posted by briansmith37 | August 1, 2015, 1:12 am
    • You appear to have answered by saying we’d make more progress by going against the true believers, though you did not say so directly. What you last wrote does not sound like my ideas, commitments, stances, versions or situational awareness. It sounds like you are angry and want to fight someone. Sorry, that’s not me. I don’t agree with your statements, nor do I identify with your accusations about who I am.

      Posted by Noah Michael Henderson | August 6, 2015, 6:16 pm

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