A way to move forward on the Sierra’s toughest issues

“As the 2014 election season came to a close many of us were left reflecting on our divisive political system. How did we come to a point where even the most straightforward of questions becomes politicized? With so many looming issues, from climate change, to the spread of disease, to international military conflicts, (don’t think we’ve missed the connection between them!) how have we become so paralyzed?,” writes Brittany Todd, the communications manager of Sierra Business Council on the SBC blog.

“At Peak Innovation last month, a common theme arose. SBC’s 20th Anniversary Conference became a lesson in ‘coming to the table,’ in bringing together people with differing opinions and objectives and finding common ground.

“Acclaimed citizen writer Terry Tempest Williams spoke in length about the strategy during Peak Innovation’s opening night. She gave anecdotes from the gatherings she’s held, coined, ‘Difficult Dinners,’ where thought leaders, divided by background, opinion, political leanings and more, are brought together to share a meal, as well as the societal etiquette that such a social contract demands.

“NY Times Bestselling Author and Co-host of CNN’s Crossfire Van Jones closed Peak Innovation with a similar message. Jones called for us to accept our common ground, or come to the table, and listen. Through listening we can find shared priorities, the possibility of cooperation, and ways in which we may take collaborative action.

“And I didn’t just hear about this simple strategy at Peak Innovation, I saw it in action. I won’t name those who were at the table, but following the Vision Awards Ceremony I found myself in deep conversation with a county supervisor, the head of a conservation group, and a fellow SBC staff member, discussing whether there’s any value in taking local action on climate change when the global picture seems so grim.

“And that’s what it all comes down to. If we can all come to the table and recognize the common ground, the humanity, that represents each of us regardless of opinions, then we can have a real conversation, one where we listen to each other and come to understand how our opinions were formed. Perhaps then we can reach real compromise and start moving forward on the many issues that our world is facing.”

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

12 thoughts on “A way to move forward on the Sierra’s toughest issues”

  1. Jeff
    Rather than snidely comment on Russ Steele’s, apparently correct, observation that land temperatures have not risen since around 2000, wouldn’t it be better, and more conducive to convincing the readers, to refer your readers to a scholar’s discussion of the issue, such as Cal professor Richard Muller’s analysis at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/26/opinion/a-pause-not-an-end-to-warming.html?_r=0. Berkeley Earth is doing fascinating work on the actual numbers of various different ways to measure changes in the earth’s temperature , while opening up their data sets for other scholars to review and challenge.
    Ray Shine

  2. Ray: I think the answer is really quite simple, Russ is not interested in a serious conversation and is incapable of engaging in one with real intellectual honesty, as evidenced by the fact that he glossed over the key point that Ms. Todd’s post was making, that we should be having these discussions, even between people who disagree, on a regular basis in order to find common ground on values.

    (I will come back to the intellectual dishonesty issue later)

    Russ elected instead to imply that Ms. Todd, representing SBC, was not factual.

    I am very familiar with the work of Richard Muller, and think he makes some pretty good points about ‘the pause’, but in the end even his work concludes that surface temperatures are rising, and that accounting for variability, increases in greenhouse gasses are the likely cause.

    But Russ chooses instead to focus on the claim that temperatures have not risen since 1998.

    Alternately in his commentaries Russ states ‘temperatures have not risen’ and ‘surface temperatures have not risen’, and states at times that this is proof that either warming is not occurring or that it is not human caused and is a function of natural variability, showing in my eyes that he is relatively unconcerned about his readers confusing the two.

    If one claims that global temperatures have not risen since 1998 they are overlooking a key fact, that global surface air temperature measurements are only ONE measure of temperature, and in fact a minor one, compared to ocean temperature at several different levels, land mass temperature and the amount of heat that ice can absorb. Numerous studies have shown that the earth continues to absorb heat, the critical issue, regardless of the air temperature. In short, to be honest about the whole system one needs to measure the total heat energy content of the system, not just the air temperature.

    According to studies by a team led by G. M. Murphy (2009) published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, and confirmed in 2012 by Dana Nuccitelli the total heat content of the earth has been consistently rising,

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2009JD012105/abstract

    Click to access Comment_on_DK12.pdf

    But battling scientific research is really not the point of this post, we could go back and forth on that forever, and that is what Russ wants us to do.

    My contention is that Russ is actually engaged in a strategy to sow doubt about global warming in order to avoid the policy prescriptions necessary to address the need to adapt to a changing climate, or mitigate its impacts with certain populations, that he finds so abhorrent, and that that bias clouds his judgement.

    Here are the TACTICS that I see Russ use on a regular basis that demonstrate intellectual dishonesty:

    1) Obfuscate the facts–confuse readers by stating things like “air temperature” “global temperature” and “temperature” so they are simply left with the impression that means all temperature–and do it over and over agains so people think they know what they are talking about.

    2) Confuse greenhouse gas emission related temperature and total heat content variations with natural variations, and alternately advance theories like volcanism and solar activity, with a lower threshold for data reliability than he holds Anthropogenic Global Warming to.

    3) Attack the source–claim that all government funded climate science is unreliable because the governments of the world have adopted AGW as a means of raising revenue and expanding power over the sovereignty of the people–but readily adopt science funded through ‘other means’ whether the be industry sources or privately industry funded think tanks.

    4) Attack the motives–claim that people like me are motivated by a global collectivist value system rather than a sincere desire to deal with an existential threat to human life.

    5) Change the subject–engage in a conversation about a specific study or the efficacy of that study then change the point to another issue in mid stream, e.g., CO2 is actually good for us, the climate has changed for billions of years so it really doesn’t matter, its just about raising taxes, etc.

    6) Plead ‘uncertainty’, and use it as an excuse for business as usual–“how can we be so vain as to think we know enough about the earth’s systems to make a final determination or take action

    7) Appeal to greed and comfort–exaggerate the potential harm of adapting to climate change by touting increases in electricity rates or gas prices and make the reader believe they will be made a pauper by taking action.

    8) Cite the ‘gadfly’–by ignoring the overwhelming body of scientific research and hundreds of global organizations and institutions that have clearly stated that AGW is a problem, and cite the guy who comes up with an iconoclastic conclusion–and the do it over and over again so people think the gadfly are ‘equal’ to the mainstream.

    9) Appeal to other ideological values that are challenged by climate change–like personal freedom, or belief in the free market, or the poverty problem, and imply that adapting to climate change steals liberty, freedom and opportunity.

    10) Attack the messenger–host people on your blog who call people fat, lazy, communists, deadbeats, or other unrelated things, and don’t hold them accountable when they lie or go over the line in order to diminish the credibility of critics. I can think of an interesting conversation I had with Russ at a broadband meetings, a topic I think we agree on, where none of this derivative nonsense came up, so why does he allow such things to occur on his blog?

    All of these things roll into a conscious strategy to effectively deny an intellectual honest argument or discussion of the science.

    Now I am sure Russ would say that ‘they do the same thing’, and some extent he is correct, and ‘doing the same thing’ is exactly what he wants, it makes climate change a politically partisan issue, and partisanship freezes action, and acts as a hedge against moderates, which the purveyors of doubt have been very effective at.

    20 years ago this issue wasn’t a partisan one: it was the Reagan administration that came up with Cap and Trade, the Bush I administration that advanced trading markets to deal with acid rain, the Nixon administration that created the EPA, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and established regulatory rules for endangered species. As recently as 6 years ago people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham were working across the aisle to try to find solutions–today they are cowed into submission fearing a home state challenge from their flanks.

    So let’s look for a minute at the research over why someone would basically deny the weight of the evidence and adopt an opinion country to the evidence.

    To do so one needs to understand the concept of motivated reasoning.

    “Motivated reasoning refers to the tendency of people to conform assessment of information to some goal or end extrinsic of accuracy. The goal of defending ones identity or standing in an affinity group that shares fundamental values can generate motivated condition of evidence on contested facts of policy significance. Even amongst modestly partisan individuals shared ideological or cultural commitments are likely to be intertwined with membership in communities of one sort or another that furnish those individuals with important forms of support–emotional and psychic as well as material. If a proposition about some policy relevant fact comes to be commonly associated with such a group, the prospect that one might form a contrary position threatens one’s standing within it. Thus, as a form of “identity self defense,”individuals are unconsciously marinated to resist empirical assertions…..if those assertions run contrary to the dominant belief within their group.”

    “Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection–Dan Kahan, Yale University”

    Now although it is indeed true that both the left and the right are prone to motivated reasoning, what Ms. Todd was actually appealing to was a need to transcend ‘motivated reasoning’ through the conscious sharing and understanding of values– the real things that make people tick like desires for the future, family, love, responsibility, fear, trust–and using shared values to understand each others positions. That part of Ms. Todd’s posting Russ simply glossed over and ignored, instead portraying her as naive and scientifically illiterate.

    Which just goes to show you, when you reach out a hand over and over again in a community and someone proves themselves to be dishonest and vindictive, you probably are not going to convince them to connect on a deeper level any time soon, which is all the more reason to leave them in the dust and concentrate on the people who matter. Engaging in their cognitive frame and motivated reasoning that powers their ability to spread doubt is a waste of time, and tactically counter-productive.

  3. Thanks Steve. A generous assessment. This “stand by your man” intellectual mindset among some in our western county — even if they’re wrong — is a tired, unproductive narrative.

  4. I am not always following the varieties of circle of stupid that pass themselves off as relevant in bogland regularly, and most readers here have dropped this post by now, but I did want to provide an update.

    Russ Steele recently posted this response to my post above on his blog.

    “The validity of the climate change argument is not about seeking “common ground on values” it is about the facts. The point I was making is that all the talk around the table seeking common ground will not change the data upon which facts are based on.”

    Any intelligent reader will see that he really is still densely sticking to his “I am right and you are wrong” mind set. Of course Russ is also ignoring my statement that, “….battling scientific research is really not the point of this post, we could go back and forth on that forever, and that is what Russ wants us to do.”

    The point of Ms. Todd’s original post was that in world where some contend there is competing or conflicting ‘science’ the path forward requires a higher level engagement and sharing of values to understand WHY people think what they do.

    But we will never find that out, or understand each other positions, as long as people like Russ are this fuc#ing stubborn. Which is why we have to just leave the involved in the dust and let natural selection take its course 🙂

  5. All of the “tactics” stated above are common public relations ploys. The first rule of PR damage control is to create doubt. As long as there is doubt, change will happen more slowly. Climate deniers are simply passing on the carefully designed long term PR campaign created by the oil industry to protect their investment in the face of catastrophic climate issues. Exxon began this process as early as 1984 when it started a series of “advertorials” (paid advertising made to look like legitimate editorial columns) that began to run in newspapers across the country sowing the seeds of doubt. In other words, Exxon recognized that climate change was a problem that was going to affect their long term profits 30 years ago, way before the public had much of a clue about it. One need only to look at the differences between attitudes in Europe and the US to see the effects the denial strategy has had on public opinion. Europeans know there is a problem. Americans aren’t quite sure. All of this is the face of overwhelming evidence. It is a sad commentary on human nature that the wealthy put their greed ahead of the welfare of the planet and its people. It is even sadder that some people buy into it mainly based on political ideology. Conglomerate corporate capitalism is a cancer that is killing its children.

  6. Circle of Stupid update:

    “Here is the thought. How does climate change (aka global warming) create record breaking cold and snow in the United States and Europe?”

    Russ Steele

    1. I have been out of town less than an hour, and I find Barry Pruett has written about me, RL Crabb has mentioned me and I received an unpublishable “anonymous” comment from a reader from Roseburg, Oregon. I’m flattered!

    1. Bruce,
      Judging from the “anonymous” comment, I don’t think you will be receiving a holiday card from this person. LOL.

  7. An excellent local example of what can be done by working together is the Rim Fire Recovery Project. A very diverse group, Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, were able to agree on how to deal with the Recovery Project. About all the reporting has been in the Sonora Union Democrat.

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