Friday, June 16, 2017

Choice or Ignorance

Days after Donald Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord, his U.N. Ambassador, Nicky Haley, acknowledged that the President is aware climate is in fact changing, but she refused to answer whether or not he believe mankind was the most serious contributor to global warming. She added that the President was “absolutely intent on making sure that we have clean air, clean water, that he makes sure that we're doing everything we can to keep America's moral compass in the world when it comes to the environment.” The same man who called the climate change efforts a “Chinese hoax” intent on distracting American resources from competitive investment? Haley’s words were not exactly the message that anyone, in the United States or otherwise, truly believes are U.S. policy after our pullout from the Paris accord.
When Donald Trump eschewed “political correctness” after the London van-crashing-knife-attacks one that killed at least seven and injured at least four dozen more, mocking Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan’s call for calm, The Donald tweeted (June 4th), “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is 'no reason to be alarmed!’” He went on to iterate that these attacks, along with the Manchester bombing, were rather complete justification for his “travel ban,” also suggesting that the situation would have been different if American gun laws had been the rule in Britain.
The next day after the mayor suggested the first dig from Trump was using his quote out of context (telling Brits not to be alarmed over police with guns in London), Trump doubled down and tweeted (June 5th), “Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his 'no reason to be alarmed' statement. MSM [mainstream media] is working hard to sell it!" Trump, already wildly unpopular in continental Europe, seems determined to spread that unpopularity to the U.K. as well.
Beliefs trump facts? Ironic that on June 5th, a disgruntled worker in Orlando, Florida decided to shoot and kill 5 of his fellow workers before turning his semi-automatic pistol on himself. Yes, the same Orlando where on “June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a terrorist attack/hate crime inside Pulse, a gay nightclub.” (Wikipedia) You have to wonder how many more Londoners and visitors would have been killed if the American mass-shooter “assault rifle of choice” – an AR 15 – would have been used by those terrorists instead of an accelerating van and knives.
Think also what a wonderful country we could be if we simply ignored the first amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion, how much more we could be a focus of terrorist attacks, and how cooperation with Muslims who have been our stanch allies in our war against terrorism will be alienated and disincented to cooperate further with U.S. authorities (as our police and intelligence communities have warned). A Muslim travel ban wouldn’t have the slightest positive impact on our safety, particularly noting that there hasn’t been a single attack in the United States from citizens of any of the Islamic nations subject to that ban. Beliefs trump facts.
But as we cut federal (and frequently state) funding for scientific research and public education, we are politicizing hard facts. Facts and alternative facts have comparable validity and belief. Truth is irrelevant to vast numbers of Americans, so committed to pushing their beliefs to negate facts with unbridled passion. Take this excerpt from the June 4th New York Times with a story in Wellston, an Ohion rust-belt town, where beliefs really trump facts.
To Gwen Beatty, a [straight-A] junior at the high school in this proud, struggling, Trump-supporting town, the new science teacher’s lessons on climate change seemed explicitly designed to provoke her…So she provoked him back.
“When the teacher, James Sutter, ascribed the recent warming of the Earth to heat-trapping gases released by burning fossil fuels like the coal her father had once mined, she asserted that it could be a result of other, natural causes.
“When he described the flooding, droughts and fierce storms that scientists predict within the century if such carbon emissions are not sharply reduced, she challenged him to prove it. ‘Scientists are wrong all the time,’ she said with a shrug, echoing those celebrating President Trump’s announcement last week that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
“When Mr. Sutter lamented that information about climate change had been removed from the White House website after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, she rolled her eyes… Gwen, 17, could not put her finger on why she found Mr. Sutter, whose biology class she had enjoyed, suddenly so insufferable. Mr. Sutter, sensing that his facts and figures were not helping, was at a loss. And the day she grew so agitated by a documentary he was showing that she bolted out of the school left them both shaken… ‘I have a runner,’ Mr. Sutter called down to the office, switching off the video.
“He had chosen the video, an episode from an Emmy-winning series that featured a Christian climate activist and high production values, as a counterpoint to another of Gwen’s objections, that a belief in climate change does not jibe with Christianity… ‘It was just so biased toward saying climate change is real,’ she said later, trying to explain her flight. ‘And that all these people that I pretty much am like are wrong and stupid.’” Gwen was raised with a false premise, that climate change was mainly caused by mankind’s industrial pollution. Teachings to the contrary were directly making her elders out to be liars.
Nevertheless, increasingly, climate change is being acknowledged as real. But that still does not move the needle of popular support in communities where Donald Trump’s base is the overwhelming majority. “In rural Wellston… where most students live below the poverty line and the needle-strewn bike path that abuts the marching band’s practice field is known as ‘heroin highway’  a former coal and manufacturing town seeking its next act, rejecting the key findings of climate science can seem like a matter of loyalty to a way of life already under siege. Originally tied, perhaps, to economic self-interest, climate skepticism has itself become a proxy for conservative ideals of hard work, small government and what people here call ‘self-sustainability.’
Assiduously promoted by fossil fuel interests, that powerful link to a collective worldview largely explains why just 22 percent of Mr. Trump’s supporters in a 2016 poll said they believed that human activity is warming the planet, compared with half of all registered voters. And the prevailing outlook among his base may in turn have facilitated the president’s move to withdraw from the global agreement to battle rising temperatures.
“‘What people ‘believe’ about global warming doesn’t reflect what they know,’ Dan Kahan, a Yale researcher who studies political polarization, has stressed in talks, papers and blog posts. ‘It expresses who they are.’
“But public-school science classrooms are also proving to be a rare place where views on climate change may shift, research has found. There, in contrast with much of adult life, it can be hard to entirely tune out new information.” NY Times. To so many of these people, to acknowledge the falseness of their belief that mankind did not cause climate deterioration is pretty much an admission that their hopes and dreams of returning to more prosperous time, where blue collar jobs produced middle class earnings, are equally false. We are, simply, asking them to give up hope… as falsely-premised as that hope may be.
I’m Peter Dekom, and until we can introduce a believable and sustainable new path to hope and fulfillment of that hope, our continued efforts to instill “facts and reality” in these impaired communities will just fall on deeply sad, desperate and deaf ears.

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