One big reason climate skeptics don’t believe in climate change

If you follow a credible news source at all (i.e. not Fox, CNN, or MSNBC), you’ve undoubtedly been seeing all sorts of stories: “July hottest month on record, ever!“, “Massive drought grips Midwest“, “Heat records shattered across America“, “327th consecutive month with above average temperatures” (now at least 330), etc. Yet despite these facts (indeed, temperature measurements are facts and not guesses), climate skepticism is growing in the United States! Why, in the face of all these shattered temperature records, droughts, heat waves, and snowless winters, do people still argue against climate change?

I’ve pointed out before that the delivery of the climate change message has been less than perfect; fear is not the way forward. Presenting the facts in a neutral way might possibly work, but doom and gloom scenarios will not work (even if they are true).

So what is the one big reason many skeptics still deny climate change? One word: Hypocrisy. This has been bugging me for a while. My knowledge is restricted somewhat to my experience during my Master’s and PhD. programs, but ecology graduate students really do an abysmal job of taking their own advice. For example, ecologists and climate experts say that one of the most effective actions you can take to mitigate climate change is stop driving. Carpool, bike, walk, skateboard, whatever, just stop using your car so much. That’s a pretty big lifestyle change to ask people to undertake, especially when the people giving the advice are terrible at following it themselves and they should know better.

I bike or walk to work every day. Yes, I drive to the store (sometimes) or to my friend’s house, but that’s about it. I generally use my car way less than most, and that’s still considering my friends always make me DD (I’m chalking that up to carpooling, as well). Here’s a map of a few people I worked with in my Master’s program in relation to the lab (pins are not actual addresses, but close).

I really wanted to slap the two people who drove 0.17 miles to work. For your information, that was driving from the dorms across the parking lot to the lab.

At this place, most students lived well within 4 miles of work. That’s a 20 minute ride at most at a very comfortable pace. Hell, it was an island, it wasn’t exactly a long trip anywhere.

This one is worse. Here’s a map of approximate grad student housing in relation to campus at my PhD program.


Not only are they incredibly close, but 1) It’s quicker to bike due to congested streets and the park being closed to automobiles, and 2) The cluster of people that live near one another never even carpooled, they drove separately.

Here’s another map of a place I have worked. In this situation, the lab was split into two segments roughly 3/4 miles apart. Moreover, the lab has about 30-40 free bikes for transportation around campus. Guess who would sign out a truck just to drive back and forth between labs?

If you answered ‘Marine biologists doing climate change research’, you win!

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. I’m probably going to have a few people angry at me for this (as if anyone reads this anyway). People who should know better and constantly complain about “ignorant Americans driving their stupid cars” can’t be bothered to ride a bike themselves. In that case, why should anyone believe us? Skeptics probably say, “Well, if climate change is really an issue, why are these scientists still putzing a mile down the road in a car?”

“You must be the change you to see in the world”, right? Enough ‘Do as I say, not as I’ve done’. How about, “Do as I do, because we all need to work this out together”.

Also, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, 24 hour cable news networks are awful, awful sources of real information. Also, I was careful not to say names or places in the maps above. So if you do suck at not driving, your secret is safe until someone else says it.


9 thoughts on “One big reason climate skeptics don’t believe in climate change

  1. Yup. A lot of environmentalists don’t take their own advice of “being the change one wishes to see in the world.” Combined that with a perception of preachiness, and it’s easy to see why people get defensive, angry, and resistant towards change.

  2. Ha ha we are hypocrits. You should post names so we know who is driving and lives close. Maybe then we can make fun of them and guilt them into walking/riding/using the awful bus system. Just use aliases like “the man with the beard” or “the New Yorker who owns an SUV” and we will know who you are talking about.

    • Ha! I thought about that. Decided against it. I didn’t realize anyone read this blog anyway. This was more a forum for me to call them all out than it was trying to solve the climate change issue. I’m just surprised/glad I even got comments, even if they do disagree with me. I didn’t do the other campus (yours) because I have way less information on that. You should give the man with the beard and the New Yorker with an SUV as much crap as possible.

  3. Oh, c’mon, the climate change problem IS NOT going to be fixed by individuals taking personal, voluntary actions, ehether these be cycling, public transport, or composting. This is a big engineering problem which requires big sokutions, at scsle. And I don’t mean “geoengineering”.

    These kinds of behaviors ARE good for showing people there are viable alternatives, and for demonstrating leadership. But the solution is, ultimately, less consumption, not just more renewable energy snd high MPG cars. That, unfortunately, means a smaller economic forcing function. We need to admit all this and deal withbit.

    • I don’t disagree that the problem isn’t going to be solved by this, it does require a huge change in infrastructure and economic policies. However, the point of the post was not ‘how to solve climate change’, it was ‘why skeptics still don’t believe in it’. Issac’s comment hit the nail on the head. Will cycling solve the issue? Nope, but preaching to people about climate change while driving our cars a mile down the road doesn’t exactly set a good example.

      Besides, I think history is full of people taking individual actions that kicked started a massive movement. The idea is that if you want something to happen, you need to do it yourself.

  4. Realistically speaking, changes in personal habits, as important as they are, aren’t going to make a difference. This is a big engineering problem, and it demands commitments by governments. What changes in personal lifestyle can do is offer a model of living for the public, showing it is possible to live sustainably, without hardship. The harder thing will be to figure out how to change economies which depend upon ever increasing consumption to work using some other model. Otherwise we’re going to be stuck with geoengineering, which is a really bad idea, and I loathe.

    • I agree with you, qcoder, geo-engineering scares me. Every time I hear the newest proposal, I just think of the multitude of unknown factors at play. Look at what we’ve done already. Just dumping CO2 into the atmosphere and warming the planet (which can be thought of as geo-engineering) will have pretty drastic effects across the board on all biological levels.

      Changes in personal habits will make a difference insofar as they set an example. We do need to reorganize our economic, transportation, and power infrastructure around renewable resources and mass transit, but such a monumental reorganization will not take place unless there is a demand to do it. Changes in individual habits alone might not solve the issue, but they may raise awareness and create the necessary demand to make the huge political changes necessary. In reality, the point of this post is that people who are preaching the climate change gospel really need to play by their own rules if this is going to work, otherwise opponents of climate change just have more ammo (i.e. “If climate change is such a big deal, why don’t you ride a bike?”). It’s kind of like having a doctor tell you smoking causes cancer while holding a cigarette. I don’t pretend to know how to solve the issue, nor can I likely start a movement, but I can at least try to live the same lifestyle I’m encouraging others to live.

  5. I think this is a terribly skewed prospective. A huge number of people commute on bike to work on Dauphin Island. And, for those who don’t, it doesn’t mean they’re not taking other steps to live a green lifestyle. The graduate students at the sea lab have started a recycling program, organize the town’s Coastal Cleanup and many volunteer for conservation activities.

    I am sure we could all nit pick and find ways each of us could lead better by example, not just in climate change, but in so many other aspects.

    Belittling your colleagues for not living your lifestyle is self righteous. There are activities in my every day life that I wish more people would become involved in but I have faith that through my personal dedication to these issues, more of my friends and colleagues will become involved. And, I know this is true because over the last few years I’ve had more and more fellow graduate students join me in my activities.

    You are promoting an atmosphere that seems like it is more about judging your colleagues than anything else. How is a game of one upping each other truly going to lead to any good?

    Biking to work is a lovely idea. But, so is dedicating your time to recycling, education and political environmental initiatives. Its easy to post on the internet. What is meaningful is if you get out there and actually recruit people to your lifestyle in an appealing manner! Start a bike to the lab group, challenge the grad students at your university to start some sort of green initiative that you see lacking, invite someone who lives close to you to meet you to bike to work… the possibilities are endless.

    • Your comment was very thoughtful and poignant. I’m well aware that students of Dauphin Island do a number of environmental friendly activities (after all, I helped start the recycling program for students and participated in Coastal Cleanup for a number of years). I’m not stranger to pro-environmental actions and activism.

      I apologize if you feel like I’m promoting an atmosphere of judgement, but I’ve met a large number of people quick to judge others for driving, not recycling, etc. while making no attempt to do so themselves. That is what I’m attempting to put under scrutiny. I am sorry if you were offended by this, but I stand by the notion that we need to be better at taking our own advice.

      Also keep in mind that the map of DI is, at best, three years old, so it is in no way a reflection on most of the graduate community currently present at DISL. Another thing to keep in mind is that I specifically left both places and names entirely anonymous specifically to avoid an atmosphere of judgement. I had no desire whatsoever to call attention to specific people at specific places as much as point out what is, at least in my mind, a rather serious issue that crops up wherever I am. This post was not meant to pass judgement on the students of DISL and I apologize if it came across that way

      And yes, it’s easy to post on the internet. It’s even easier to do so anonymously 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s