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  • Debbie Dougherty

Someone I love Told me Climate Change is a Hoax. We Must Confront our Climate Blind Spots

Updated: Jan 20

A red barn with a fence, pine trees in the back ground.
Climate Change is Obvious When You Live on a Farm. Water color by Freya Clark (age 11)

Sometimes, when traveling, you meet the most interesting people. Like, twenty plus years ago, I was on a plane heading to a conference somewhere and found myself seated next to an older woman, probably in her 80s. She asked me where I lived. I told her I lived in Mid Missouri. She told me that when she was a child she lived on her family farm in Mid Missouri. We talked for a long time, but I most remember her telling me that in the winter she and her siblings would go ice skating on the family pond. I was intrigued. Having just moved to Missouri, I asked her how one would know when they could safely ice skate. It sounded like a lot of fun! She shook her head, explaining that you cannot ice skate anymore.

Me: Why not?

Traveler: The ice does not get thick enough anymore.

Me: Why do you think that is?

Traveler: The winters don’t get as cold as they used to get.

Me: Right. Climate change.

It Doesn't Take A Genius to Recognize Climate Change.

Last week was really hot and humid in Mid-Missouri. It was so humid that moisture collected on the outside of our windows. It looked like it had rained. Our farm animals suffered, and any human who spent more than 30 minutes in the heat risked overheating. Lots of animals died from the heat, and not just livestock. It was scary.

The weather this summer has been strange. Early this summer we were in a bad drought. In July it rained and wouldn’t stop. It did not use to be this way. Like I said, we live in Mid-Missouri so the weather has never exactly been predictable, but there was a normal variation that farmers could generally count on. Not anymore. Being farmers, we probably notice weather conditions more intensity than most. We have seen the climate change over time and are absolutely mystified as to how any of our neighbors could write it off as a hoax.

Climate Change Denial and the Voice of Authority

Despite the obvious changes in our climate, I still hear local people talking about climate change as a hoax or as a lie politicians tell. In fact, someone close to me recently told me that he was watching the “news” and they showed how a "climate scientist" had “lied.”

Me: Really? Which climate scientist?

Him: I don't know. He was on the news.

Me: "Look. There are lots of climate scientists and the the science is very consistent. Other than a few outlier studies that are not well designed, the science is clear that climate change is upon us. Not only that, but can’t you observe the change based on your own experience?”

Him: I know who is telling the truth based on the tone of their voices.

Me: Ahhh. I see. You have fallen for the old ‘voice of authority’ trick.

Him: I know what I know.

My loved one's logic looks something like this: "Climate scientists lie and climate change is a hoax because the commentators said it with conviction and authority. Don’t try to convince me otherwise because I know what I know."

The author of the blog holding on to her horses halter, kissing his cheek.
Debbie Dougherty with her Horse, Red. Red cannot see when turning right. Picture by Pulitzer nominee, Lisa Krantz

I call this an Information Blind Spot. A Blind Spot occurs when people either physiologically or psychologically cannot "see" or recognize something in their environment. For example, I have a horse who cannot, for what ever reason, turn right. I was told by my Grandmother, an avid horsewoman, that is is a known yet uncommon problem in the horse world. Climate change informational blind spots are like my horse, though instead of not being able to see in one direction, climate change deniers are steadfastly ignorant, despite all of the physical signs and symptoms in their environments.

Information Blind Spot

Communication research long ago revealed the tendency for people to quickly believe misinformation if it is made consistent with something we believe to be true. Once they believe what they believe, changing people's minds is a serious challenge. Take for example a conversation I had with a student many years ago. I asked my class to raise their hands if they believed they ate a healthy diet.

Me: (pointing to a student with a raised hand) What did you have for dinner last night?

Student: Hot dogs.

Me: and you believe hot dogs are healthy?

Student: Yes.

Me: What makes you believe hot dogs are healthy?

Student: (looking perplexed) I always eat healthy.

The logic looks like this: "I eat healthy. I eat hot dogs. Hot dogs must be healthy." Despite the vast amount of information suggesting that hot dogs are not healthy, my student was committed to believing that hot dogs are, indeed, healthy because he like to eat them. See what I mean? This steadfast ignorance is hard to challenge through any logical structure. He believed what he believed because he believed it.

Back to Climate Change

As far as climate change goes, it is getting late to change our collective beliefs and behaviors. Because people out here don’t believe in climate change, many of the mitigation strategies are not available where I live. For example, getting cool technology roofing, solar energy, ground source heating and cooling, even regular heat pumps are weirdly challenging. There is almost no infrastructure for electric cars.

In the meantime, the environment is changing. The farm life is suffering (including the vegetation). Destructive insect populations are thriving. Growing crops, including gardens, fruit trees, and field crops, has gotten harder and less certain.

We Need to Confront our Climate Change Information Blind Spots.

At what point will people look at their environment and recognize that something has changed, humans have changed it, and it is time to insist on climate change policies.

Also, I find it unsettling that productive climate change policies fall on a single political party in the United States and elsewhere, even though recognizing and fighting climate change is consistent with the underlying values of both major political parties. In my country, if the Republican party would climb on board, using the voice of authority that entrances people who follow them, perhaps something can be done before it is too late. If you really want to Make America Great Again, how about, you know, making our climate a priority.

Action Steps

We all have information blind spots. All of us. Although most people like to think we are somehow exempt from this type of bias, we are as subject to it as the next person. Honestly, it all makes me a bit paranoid about confronting my own climate change blind spots. What do I insist on believing that is factually inaccurate? For example, my family operates a grass fed, rotational grazing sheep farm. Some tell me that it would be better for the environment if we shifted to raising vegetables. I am not yet convinced that shifting our farm from pasture/prairie, to intensive vegetable (cabbage? potatoes?) would be better for the environment. But I am going to keep myself open to better ways to manage our farm operation to mitigate food production in an age of climate change. That is my promise to my children, and to their children. So please, keep the science coming. I am listening.

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Shahinur rashid
Shahinur rashid
18 wrz 2023

Debbie, your blog post is a powerful reflection on climate change denial and the need to confront our information blind spots. Your story of meeting an elderly woman who recalled ice skating on a family pond highlights how our climate has shifted.

Your analogy of a horse's blind spot aptly illustrates how some hold onto beliefs, even when faced with contradictory evidence. The challenges you face in implementing climate mitigation strategies in your community underscore the urgency for collective action.

Your commitment to staying open-minded and seeking innovative approaches for your farm in the era of climate change is commendable. Your call for bipartisan cooperation on climate policies resonates strongly.

Thank you for your valuable contributions to academia, agriculture, and…

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