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Kurt Cobb

Kurt Cobb

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and author of the peak oil-themed thriller Prelude. He speaks and writes frequently on energy and the environment and…

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Peak Oil and Climate Change: The Time for Arguing is Over

"Don't waste your breath" needs to become a mantra in the peak oil and sustainability communities. The season for arguing with peak oil and climate change deniers has long since passed. Our time is too precious and the need to act too urgent. The time has come for talkin' triage.

Triage, of course, refers to medical decisions made on a battlefield. Those for whom treatment would be useless are given what comfort is possible. Those for whom treatment can wait are set aside while those who will only survive with treatment are treated first.

But, I'm thinking about a triage for our discussions with others by identifying those who will never be convinced, those who are already convinced, and those who are open to persuasion. It still makes my blood boil occasionally when I must listen to completely discredited arguments repeated by climate change deniers who care nothing for evidence or logic. But there is no point in arguing with such people. Most of them engage me not to further their understanding of climate change, but to offload their anger about myriad other things in their lives. I become a temporary enemy against whom they can concentrate their fire. For me it is a completely useless enterprise.

The only time it is worthwhile to engage such people is if you have an audience uncommitted to the issue and you have sufficient rhetorical skills to put your opponent back on his or her heels. Remember: Such public arguments are not about logic so much as impressions. A skilled climate change denier can argue that there is uncertainty about climate change and convince an audience that this uncertainty means we needn't be alarmed. But, of course, it is precisely the uncertainty that should lead us to act to prevent potentially catastrophic consequences.

Still, a population brought up on courtroom dramas tends to believe that the criminal standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" should apply to public policy questions. Of course, this is patent nonsense. Public policy is always made under conditions that are uncertain. But try convincing most people of that in a five-minute exchange. My advice is to announce that the denier's conclusions are contrary to the overwhelming evidence on climate change and that you are not going to discuss the issue with someone so ill informed.

There are fewer self-styled deniers of peak oil because the issue remains more obscure and in some ways more difficult to master. There is also less denier material on the Internet and elsewhere for those inclined to vent their spleens using peak oil as a target. Still, I think the same approach applies unless you feel extremely confident about your ability to successfully embarrass your opponent.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the deniers are like those poor wounded soldiers in triage who are considered hopeless. We must let them go. They merely slow down the work of reaching those who can be convinced and recruited into action. Recruitment can be done all the more quickly if it is done in friendly non-confrontational venues where the intent is to share information. Naturally, these venues might attract some deniers. But they are easy to detect and easy to shut down. They try to hog the floor by pretending that they might be convinced. Don't let them. Get up and tell them that the group now understands their views and that others should be allowed to speak.

Legitimate points of discussion based on genuine uncertainties which are followed by good-faith exchanges are important to advancing the understanding of all of us involved in the peak oil and sustainability communities. The emphasis needs to be on good faith. When that good faith is absent, it's time to start talkin' triage.

By. Kurt Cobb

Source: Resource Insights




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  • Anonymous on October 20 2010 said:
    I dont see the point in lumping peak oil and climate change. Peak oil might arrice arrive at any time during the decade that begins next year, while climare change is ......Of course, as I read the signs, nothing will be done on either of these two battlefields. I once thought that the rich and well connected who called the shots in this old world of ours would also be in trouble when the icebergs started melting, but I was wrong. There will be places where they will be safe and comfortable, and maybe there will be room for a few of the rest of us.
  • Anonymous on October 20 2010 said:
    "I once thought that the rich and well connected who called the shots in this old world of ours would also be in trouble when the icebergs started melting, but I was wrong. There will be places where they will be safe and comfortable..."In this day and world were guns and larger weapons are so readily available I asure you the wealth will not escape. I'd say it will be the current world leaders that will suffers the most.For what it's worth I think we have a shot at missing the worst of it. Electric cars are coming...and I know they aren't near perfect, but you have to start somewhere. If we have the technology and fuel is in short supply I believe we will make it....the real question is...do we deserve to make it? Perhaps the world needs a true reset. Complete collapse of civilization and a subsequent rebuilding over the next few hundred years...rebuilding it right. Yeah it sucks for us that live through it...but we might miss it right?
  • Anonymous on October 20 2010 said:
    It is time to go back to the drawing board, erase everything you have heard and think you know, and start using your heads. Trust no one, particularly anyone being financed by political movements.The debate has just begun. Religious crusades against "peak oil" or "global warming" may occupy the minds and hands of people who have nothing important to do -- better than selling crack on the street as they say -- but such crusades do not solve real world problems.For thinking people, it is important to hold off the climate gestapo long enough to begin solving the real problems that are being plastered over by these phony, trumped up catastrophes.
  • Anonymous on October 21 2010 said:
    The inaction is not because "the rich think they will escape"Rather, the inaction is a sign (in addition to people including the rich lie-to-themselves first) of something very important: that the short-term-profits based economic system is so dysfunctional that (in addition to merely destroying large parts of the environment and screwing over us 'ordinary' people) it is so f'd up it will EVEN doom the wealthy too.The lesson is a need for a change from the Corporate Feudalism (which we laughingly call 'capitalism' but has next to nothing with mom and pop shops selling their wares in a market) to a saner system, if we want to avoid catastrophe. It also means the corporate stranglehold on the media must be changes, create from-the-ground-up grassroots democratic/community radio, video, and print media
  • Anonymous on October 21 2010 said:
    it's not that the rich think they will escapeit's proof that the system is SO messed up, this Corporate Feudalism, that is will screw over EVEN the rich too along w/the rest of us and the environmentwe need a new economic system that is not wedded to perpetual exponential growth, and which (unlike both communism and coroporatism) is not one in which economic decisions are made by elites...economic decisions including production, factory building, distribution etc must be made by the group of people both capitalists and Lennin both hated: by the general public, local communities, by We the Peoplewww. economicdemocracy . org
  • Anonymous on October 25 2010 said:
    Given that Climategate showed copies of Climate Change advocates who were manipulating the data to try to give the best argument possible, it lends a rational thinker to wonder what the data would show if it weren't tweaked as the emails clearly demonstrated.And since the original, unmanipulated data no longer exists, it appears the writer along with everyone else, will have no choice but to step back and reevaluate climate change when credible data becomes available.Until then, let's keep the two issues separate, because they have no business being confused.
  • Anonymous on October 25 2010 said:
    If several theories are developed saying the termperature is going to rise to extreme levels as the amount of CO2 increases, then one must look back over the past 15 years and analyze temps to see if the theory predicts what happneed. As it turns out, the levels of CO2 have grown significantly over the past 15 years, and yet, the published average temps have not. Could it be that these theories are wrong? Especially since we know the data has been massaged to show the best possible support for AGW as possible....? Could it be true that sun spots have more effect than all those paid government scientists want you to believe? The time for arguing is over. Let's work on subjects of substance and get past failed theories of AGW.

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